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Perspective: A Proposed Medical School Curriculum to Help Students Recognize and Resolve Ethical Issues of Global Health Outreach Work

Lahey, Timothy MD, MMSc

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31823f3fb1
Global Health Education

Medical students' interest in global health outreach work is intense and growing. Yet, medical students' global health outreach work is fraught with ethical complexity: Students must make challenging resource allocation decisions in an unfamiliar setting while providing complicated care with evolving expertise across power gradients and geographical as well as cultural boundaries. Inadequate training in the recognition and resolution of the ethical issues inherent in this work likely endangers future service work participation and undercuts the efficacy of medical students' global health outreach work. The author describes how the medical school curriculum can empower medical students to recognize and resolve ethical issues encountered in global health outreach work.

To achieve this goal, he proposes a curriculum in the ethics of global health outreach to train students to understand (1) the ethical justifications for global health outreach work, (2) the drivers of global health disparities, (3) the key ethical issues raised by global health outreach, and (4) how to resolve ethical quandaries encountered during global health outreach work through collaboration. Beyond specific topical content, a medical school curriculum in the ethics of global health outreach should emphasize the importance of local collaboration and longitudinal mentorship of medical students. Medical school training in the recognition and resolution of the ethical issues attendant on global health outreach work prepares students not only for more sophisticated work in international settings but also for the ethical complexities of medical practice closer to home.

Author Information

Dr. Lahey is associate professor, Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Lahey, Section of Infectious Diseases and International Health, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Dartmouth Medical School, One Medical Center Drive, Lebanon, NH 03756; telephone: (603) 650-6063; fax: (603) 650-6199; e-mail:

First published online December 20, 2011

© 2012 Association of American Medical Colleges