Global health learning experiences for medical students sit at the intersection of capacity building, ethics, and education. As interest in global health programs during medical school continues to rise, Northwestern University Alliance for International Development, a student-led and -run organization at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, has provided students with the opportunity to engage in two contrasting models of global health educational engagement.
Eleven students, accompanied by two Northwestern physicians, participated in a one-week trip to Matagalpa, Nicaragua, in December 2010. This model allowed learning within a familiar Western framework, facilitated high-volume care, and focused on hands-on experiences. This approach aimed to provide basic medical services to the local population.
In July 2011, 10 other Feinberg students participated in a four-week program in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, which was coordinated by Child Family Health International, a nonprofit organization that partners with native health care providers. A longer duration, homestays, and daily language classes hallmarked this experience. An intermediary, third-party organization served to bridge the cultural and ethical gap between visiting medical students and the local population. This program focused on providing a holistic cultural experience for rotating students.
Establishing comprehensive global health curricula requires finding a balance between providing medical students with a fulfilling educational experience and honoring the integrity of populations that are medically underserved. This article provides a rich comparison between two global health educational models and aims to inform future efforts to standardize global health education curricula.