Global Health (GH) electives are becoming more prevalent in undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate medical education. A 2002 survey reported 86% of Emergency Medicine (EM) residents voiced interest in participating in a GH rotation. Recent surveys reveal that 70-91% of EM residency programs offer GH electives, and 74% have had at least one resident participate in a GH elective.

In addition, the majority of residents rank EM programs with GH rotations higher than those without them. In 2013, 80% of surveyed EM residency programs had residents completing GH rotations. Despite their frequency, GH rotations place trainees in high-risk situations regarding ethics, cultural sensitivity, and personal safety.

Global health learning experiences can provide an incredible opportunity for service, for learning and for sharing perspectives, both for the host institution and for the visitor. However, ethical issues and concerns about effectiveness are ubiquitous. Providing robust guidance and education to prepare our trainees for safe and effective GH rotations is necessary to help mitigate these risks for all parties involved.

Up until last month, was no standardized free-of-charge method for preparing our trainees. There was a huge range of content and cost of what was offered: Some institutions had 2-3 week intensive global health boot camps, whereas others had no preparation at all. Many program directors had no idea what preparation (if any) their trainees had completed.

In order to fill this void, global health faculty from many countries and specialties came together to create a series of open-access, online, timeline-based, interactive modules that 1) prepare medical students, resident physicians, and fellows to safely and effectively participate in global health rotations and projects, 2) permit flexible, asynchronous learning, and 3) provide an electronic evaluation tool for program leadership.

The Practitioner’s Guide to Global Health is a series of 3 multidisciplinary timeline-based, interactive, evaluative, open-access courses to prepare students and trainees to safely and effectively participate in global health learning experiences. What’s even better? They are free-of-charge and generate a PDF certificate (upon successful completion) that can be shared with Program Directors to help facilitate a standardized preparation for trainees across the world.

The 3 courses are as follows:

  • Course 1: “The Big Picture” (to be completed 6-12 months in advance) covers several important “big picture” questions: Why do you want to have a global health learning experience? What kind of experience is right for you and your current level of training? When would be a good time? Where should you do it? How will you fund it?
  • Course 2: “Preparation & On The Ground” (to be completed 1-3 months in advance) covers the logistics of planning, security, transportation, communication, personal, health, academic; health: vaccinations and prophylaxis; cultural awareness and sensitivity; packing; logistics and cultural awareness on the ground; and dealing with unexpected situations on the ground
  • Course 3: “Reflection” (to be completed toward the end of your rotation or on your way home) helps you prepare to return, contains important information about dealing with unexpected feelings and health issues, and helps you plan for future work and sustainability

The 1st course has been open for less than 2 weeks, and already has over 1600 students enrolled. Our goal is to have this series of courses adopted by many universities and training programs so that we can standardize preparation for our trainees who wish to complete a global health rotation or to pursue a career in global health. We are also planning to study the impacts that these courses have on our trainees, both subjectively and objectively, and most importantly on the local populations who are hosting them.

For more information, a brief overview video can be viewed here. To enroll in the first course, click here. You can also visit us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobalHealthEdX.

These courses have been made possible thanks to the hard work of over 50 global health experts from around the world, the ACEP International Section, and the Boston University Digital Learning Initiative.