Global health also concerns medical students

Elisa Veini & Pearl Heinemans


At the 69th World Health Assembly in Geneva, I met medical student Roos Kistemaker, who was already familiar with Wemos via her work for IFMSA (the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association). As an active member of IFMSA, she is committed to bringing a global perspective into her academic training.

Roos Kistemaker – until recently the representative of IFMSA-Netherlands (IFMSA-NL) – was one of fifty IFMSA-members worldwide who attended the WHA in its entirety. ‘It is very interesting to hear how delegates from different countries talk about issues. For example, I heard one delegate tell about how well Universal Health Coverage is organized in her country. The only thing that still had to be worked on was the execution…’


This year, Universal Health Coverage is one of IFMSA’s key topics. The key points of their agenda clearly demonstrate that the international medical students have put effort into it. The organization shares a global perspective with many civil society organizations like Wemos. We, too, closely follow the discussions about Health Coverage.


Another topic is sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) – a keystone of the Health Systems Advocacy Partnership (of which Wemos is a partner, and which originally has been a focal point for IFMSA). Amongst other activities, the medical students teach about relationships and sexuality at elementary and high schools in the Netherlands. ‘In grade 7 and 8 (Dutch system), we talked with students about the importance of expressing what you do and do not want when it comes to relationships and sexuality. For high school students, the courses focus on topics such as HIV/AIDS.’


Clinical training

The practical side of their work brings the students closer to civil society organizations. The same goes for IFMSA-NL’s current ambition to become an organization that also specializes in advocacy. ‘We are only just in the starting phase,’ Rose stresses. Their priority is the global perspective – and that is something a socially active student like Rose welcomes in her medical training, in which the global health approach is not incorporated.


‘Medical school is primarily a clinical training. Global health or public health are virtually absent. Which is rather strange, especially when you realize that we – as doctors – are at the center of society and in the position to let our voice be heard. There is definitely a health element to many contemporary societal problems. Take climate change, for instance – it is difficult to ignore the health consequences. I think that medical students should also be prepared for their future societal role. As a doctor, this is one of the interlinkages you should be able to make.’


Awareness and structural improvements

When asked which challenge she would tackle first as a medical specialist-to-be, Roos’ answer is two-fold. ‘If I were to stay and work in the Netherlands, I would like to contribute to raising awareness among colleagues about the rights of undocumented patients to ensure that they, too, get access to (the right to) health. But if I were to work abroad, I think it would be a big challenge to deliver medical care in such a way that it fits with what is accepted in the local culture.’ Another challenge for Roos is to ensure that there are structural – not temporary – improvements in health care.


Now that she has had the opportunity to experience the WHA from up close, Roos has one message for policymakers and politicians: when it comes to global health challenges, different interests should be considered in a fair manner. ‘It’s a good thing to take into account different interests when making decisions. After all, health is affected by many factors, including economic ones. But the weighting of different interests has to be fair.’


Joining forces

Roos is optimistic about the idea of a collaboration between medical students and an organization such as Wemos. If there is a common goal – global health, in this case – collaborating is a good cause. ‘Even if it’s just to be up-to-date with what other organizations are doing, or to join forces and inspire each other. I think that we can learn from each other’s perspectives and qualities. In that way, I hope IFMSA-NL can learn about lobby and advocacy from Wemos.’

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