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How are Canadian universities training and supporting undergraduate medical, physiotherapy and occupational therapy students for global health experiences in international low-resource settings?

Jennifer Bessette, Chantal Camden


OBJECTIVES: Canadian medical (MD), physiotherapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) students increasingly show an interest in global health experiences (GHEs). As certain moral hazards can occur as a result of student GHEs, a growing consensus exists that universities must have an established selection process, in-depth pre-departure training (PDT), adequate onsite supervision and formal debriefing for their students. This study aimed to identify current practices in Canadian MD, PT and OT programs and discuss areas for improvement by comparing them with recommendations found in the literature.

METHODS: Canadian MD, PT and OT programs (n = 45) were invited to answer an online survey about their current practices for GHE support and training. The survey included 24 close-ended questions and 18 open-ended questions. Descriptive statistics and a thematic analysis were performed on the data and results were discussed in comparison with recommendations found in the literature.

RESULTS: Twenty-three programs responded to the survey. Student selection processes varied across universities; examples included using academic performance, interviews and motivation letters. All but one MD program had mandatory PDT; content and teaching formats varied, as did training duration (2–38 hours). All but one MD program had onsite supervision; local clinicians were frequently involved. Debriefing, although not systematic, covered similar content; debriefing was variable in duration (1–8 hours).

CONCLUSIONS: Many current practices are encouraging, but areas for improvement exist. Integrating global health content into the regular curriculum, with advanced study options for students participating in GHEs, could help universities standardize support and training.


Global health; medicine; physiotherapy; occupational therapy; student

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