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Should U.S. Academic Health Centers Play a Leadership Role in Global Health Initiatives? Observations from Three Years in China

Kolars, Joseph C. MD

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Based on his work in Shanghai, China, the author believes that U.S. academic health centers (AHCs) should take a leadership role in global health initiatives. While acknowledging that most AHCs already have focused projects involving research or education with foreign institutions, he proposes a greater coordination of these projects into programs that, in some areas, could also be linked to clinical delivery systems where care may be provided. These AHC “platforms” overseas would be structured as a partnership between an AHC in the United States and one in the foreign country where the platform is located, to promote their missions of education, research, and service.

For example, U.S. AHCs benefit, and are often dependent upon, international trainees who seek further clinical or research training in the United States. However, the identification of suitable candidates and career guidance, so the students' career choices could benefit their home countries, are often lacking. Thus, the United States is often viewed as facilitating a “brain drain” of future leaders in academic medicine from developing areas of the world. The author proposes a way to lessen this problem by shifting more on-site training to settings in the students' home countries, which could occur if AHCs were willing to develop overseas platforms. U.S. students would also benefit from access to medical training in foreign lands for both the cultural perspectives they offer and the unique diseases and medical situations encountered. He also suggests that shared platforms would lead to greater research opportunities for institutions in the United States and abroad.

He argues for increased efforts at coordinating these activities with the rising demand for Western clinical services by multinational companies and U.S. expatriate communities overseas. The potential pitfalls of such initiatives as well as the need for permanent relationships are discussed. In conclusion, he believes that AHCs have an opportunity to establish global health initiatives through education, research, and patient care that will both enhance their own institutions and benefit the international community.

© 2000 Association of American Medical Colleges


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