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Medical students as global citizens: a qualitative study of medical students' views on global health teaching within the undergraduate medical curriculum

Blum, N., Berlin, A., Isaacs, A. ORCID: 0000-0001-5135-232X , Burch, W. J. & Willott, C. (2019). Medical students as global citizens: a qualitative study of medical students' views on global health teaching within the undergraduate medical curriculum. BMC Medical Education, 19, 175.. doi: 10.1186/s12909-019-1631-x


Background: There is increasing interest in global health teaching among medical schools and their students. Schools in the UK and internationally are considering the best structure, methods and content of global health courses. Academic work in this area, however, has tended to either be normative (specifying what global health teaching ought to look like) or descriptive (of a particular intervention, new module, elective, etc.).

Methods: While a number of studies have explored student perspectives on global health teaching, these have often relied on tools such as questionnaires that generate little in-depth evidence. This study instead used qualitative methods to explore medical student perspectives on global health in the context of a new global health module established in the core medical curriculum at a UK medical school.

Results: Fifth year medical students participated in a structured focus group session and semi-structured interviews designed to explore their knowledge and learning about global health issues, as well as their wider perspectives on these issues and their relevance to professional development. While perspectives on global health ranged from global health ‘advocate’ to ‘sceptic’, all of the students acknowledged the challenges of prioritising global health within a busy curriculum.

Conclusions: Students are highly alert to the diverse epistemological issues that underpin global health. For some students, such interdisciplinarity is fundamental to understanding contemporary health and healthcare. For others, global health is merely a topic of geographic relevance. Furthermore, some students appeared to accept global health as a specialist area only relevant to professionals working overseas, while others considered it to be an essential part of working in the globalised world and therefore relevant to all medical professionals. Students also clearly noted that including ‘soft’ subjects and more discursive approaches to teaching and learning often sits awkwardly in a programme where ‘harder’ forms of knowledge and didactic methods tend to dominate. This suggests that more work needs to be done to explain the relevance of global health to medical students at the very beginning of their studies.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s). 2019 Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, andreproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link tothe Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Publisher Keywords: Global health, Pedagogy, Student perspectives
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
R Medicine
Departments: School of Health Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
School of Health Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management > Food Policy
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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