Before you complete your family medicine residency or even finish medical school, there are ways that you can begin to nurture your interest in global health and prepare for service you may want to provide in the future. Here's how to get started.
Seeking out as many global health-related opportunities as possible during your time in medical school can help you clarify your vision for working and serving globally, and cultivate relationships through which you may contribute and be mentored.
Opportunities you should consider include the following:
Finding a mentor can be a huge help in navigating the many questions you'll have as you become more aware of global health needs and opportunities. Here are some suggestions on finding a mentor for yourself.
An accredited family medicine residency program provides ideal preparation for short- and long-term global health work. Family physicians are specifically trained to provide the care that is most needed in the developing world—care for patients of all ages that is comprehensive, continuous, integrated, community oriented, and team based. If you are seriously considering global health work, you should select a residency program that offers:
Once you have started your family medicine residency, the following steps can help you prepare for global health work:
If you want to make a lasting impact in a global health setting, it is important to find your niche within the vast array of family medicine global health opportunities. It may take time and several different experiences to discover and develop your passion. You may find that you are drawn to a certain country, culture, language area, or area of need (e.g., maternal and child health, social determinants of health, disaster relief, policy, noncommunicable diseases). Be open to the many types of experiences that are available. If possible, explore them before you are committed to long-term employment.
There may be faculty mentors in your residency program who have experience in certain areas of global health. The AAFP offers a directory of global health opportunities.
Attending conferences such as the AAFP Global Health Summit also will expose you to many different areas of interest within global health.
Once you find your passion, partnering with individuals and organizations that share your enthusiasm will further your interest and help you have a lasting, sustainable impact. Cultivate relationships by staying connected with particular organizations or international communities. If you travel, try to return to the same area so you can deepen your commitment to that population. Partnerships and connections will help you integrate global health fully into your career, and expand your capabilities in sustainable global health efforts.
There is significant interest in global health among family medicine residents in the United States and abroad. The World Organization of Family Doctors (Wonca) Young Doctors’ Movements (YDMs) around the world connect passionate residents and young physicians in conversations about family medicine in global health.
Proficiency in public health is becoming increasingly important in the global health arena, especially if you want to make lasting impact on prevention and social determinants of health. Some residency programs and fellowship programs pay for pursuit of an MPH while in training. Find out if your residency program is among them.
It is becoming easier to find residency programs that offer a family medicine global health fellowship; however, there are currently more global health fellowships in emergency medicine (EM) and internal medicine (IM) than in family medicine. If this is the case at your residency program, talk with the fellowship program to find out whether these fellowships can be adapted to family medicine.
Many residencies already have global health electives or tracks in place. If your residency does not offer these, consider creating your own global health elective in your area of interest. Most residency programs will accept your ideas for an elective, especially if you already have a relationship with the organization with which you will be working.
If you are unable to travel due to time or financial constraints, pursue or create electives locally that encompass global health ideals. Working with underserved or marginalized populations in your own community can create lasting positive changes. Remember, global health is not just international health; it includes efforts in your own backyard as well!