Setting Priorities for Teaching and Learning: An Innovative Needs Assessment for a New Family Medicine Program in Lao PDR

Kanashiro, Jeanie MD, MMEd; Hollaar, Gwen MD, MPH; Wright, Bruce MD; Nammavongmixay, Khamphong MD; Roff, Sue MA

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3180305f64
Global Health

Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is a small, tropical, landlocked country in southeast Asia. It is one of the least developed countries in the region, and its socioeconomic indicators are among the lowest 25% in the world. The World Health Organization has long called for increased equity in primary health care access around the world. To meet this need in Lao PDR, the Family Medicine Specialist Program was developed, a Lao-generated postgraduate training program designed to produce community-oriented primary care practitioners to serve the rural, remote areas of Lao PDR, where 80% of the population lives. An innovative method of needs assessment was required to determine the health care priorities to be met by this new program. Through the use of a modified Delphi technique, local key leaders in medical education, clinical specialists, and teachers were consulted to develop prioritized objectives for the hospital-based curriculum of the program. By setting priorities for teaching and learning in the unique and needy circumstances of Lao PDR, a novel approach to curriculum planning in a low-income country was explored and ultimately formed the foundation of the new curriculum. This process served to direct the allocation of scarce resources during implementation of this groundbreaking program. More importantly, this model of needs assessment could potentially be used to customize medical curricula in other low-income countries facing challenges similar to those in Lao PDR.

Dr. Kanashiro is clinical assistant professor, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada.

Dr. Hollaar is assistant professor, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada.

Dr. Wright is associate dean of undergraduate medical education, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada.

Dr. Nammavongmixay is director of planning and international cooperation, National University of Laos, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Ms. Roff is project development officer, Centre of Medical Education, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Kanashiro, University of Calgary, Peter Lougheed Centre, Department of Surgery, 3500 26th Ave. NE, Calgary, AB, Canada, T1Y 6J4; telephone: (403) 943-5689; fax: (403) 219-3574; e-mail: (

© 2007 Association of American Medical Colleges