New School: Innovations in Medical Faculties Will Teach Students to Focus on the Overall Health of Society and the Environment

By Woollard, Robert | Alternatives Journal, August 2005 | Go to article overview

New School: Innovations in Medical Faculties Will Teach Students to Focus on the Overall Health of Society and the Environment


Woollard, Robert, Alternatives Journal


THE LAST century's uncritical love affair with technology is having increasingly adverse impacts on the health of both ecosystems and people. In a real sense, this love affair has affected health care systems themselves. Like other scientific or technological endeavours, developments in medicine have been limited only by what can be done, by what is possible. Very little attention has been paid to what should be done. Medical schools as social institutions have tended to reflect this trend toward exploring the possible, and increasingly, the profitable over that which benefits society as a whole.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and others have begun to respond to this divergence between the activities of medical schools and the health needs of their societies. A WHO-sponsored international movement is working toward making medical schools more socially accountable. Social accountability obliges medical professionals to focus education, research and patient services on the improved health of the communities, regions and nations in which they work.

It is an ambitious goal, representing a sea change in the culture of medicine. Setting health care priorities based on communities' needs involves an understanding of the complex interactions between human activities, human health and ecosystem health. Because of these complexities, health professionals and administrators could not be expected to set health-related goals in a vacuum, but would ideally work in partnership with academic institutions, policy makers, and communities themselves.

The WHO initiative acknowledges the considerable social and economic resources invested in medical schools and fosters an expectation that medical schools can make greater contributions to communities than has heretofore been the case. If all aspects of the policy, management, professional and intellectual endeavours of society were similarly disposed to work together with their communities on setting and achieving mutual goals for human and ecological health, the prospects for the future health of both humans and their sustaining biosphere would be considerably enhanced.

To this end, the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) has worked over the last four years to give life to the ideas inherent in the concept of social accountability. The AFMC worked with Health Canada to bring forward "Social Accountability: a Vision for Canadian Medical Schools" in 2002. A subsequent series of symposia and workshops with input from health professionals, health administrators, policy makers, academics and the public led to the formal development of The Partners Forum on The Social Accountability of Canadian Medical Schools in April of 2004. This enduring expression of the five-way partnership has resulted in two major thrusts--one related to Aboriginal health and one related to public health.

The AFMC has also co-ordinated the introduction of entirely new accreditation standards for continuing medical education and continuing professional development based on principles of social accountability and is actively participating in international standard setting for undergraduate medical education. Many other medical organizations are increasingly disposed to make contributions that promote both understanding and positive change. …

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