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Volunteer Medical Students Gain Experience Where it’s Needed Most

Volunteer medical students

Medical students volunteer much-needed medical services to understaffed health facilities throughout Northern Uganda.

The health workforce in Northern Uganda is only 35% of what is required to meet Ministry of Health (MOH) standards. At the same time, HIV, TB and malaria are ravaging communities at higher rates than in other places throughout the country. To address the critical and chronic human resource shortage, NUMAT, in collaboration with district officials, developed a partnership with Makerere University Medical School to train and place medical students in understaffed health units as preparation for eventual professional posting in the region.

The partnership “Community-Based Education Services” (COBES) is a model helping to prepare health professionals for practice in rural areas, integrate national priorities into undergraduate training, and shift the focus of health intervention from facilities to communities. A phased approach was used in six of the NUMAT-supported districts by supporting 40 medical students to volunteer in seven health facilities for six weeks. Initially, regional discussions took place among NUMAT, Makerere University, and political leaders on marketing the model, discussing the concept, and building consensus. The next phase was the training of students’ supervisors on COBES principles and objectives. Finally, students were deployed in poorly-staffed peripheral health units. The districts provided accommodation and site tutors, while NUMAT provided allowances for transport and meals, and technical assistance together with the University.

The COBES experience was positive for all: the clinics, health workers, districts, and especially the patients themselves, who welcomed the attention of eager students. In addition, immense patient loads were reduced and students received hands-on learning that builds on their academic studies.

Volunteer medical student provides services

A volunteer medical student examines a patient in a NUMAT-supported health facility.

“The medical students helped us to address understaffing in all areas including the laboratory, dispensary, and immunization activities,” said the clinician in-charge of one of the health facilities that benefited from the program. “These students would see gaps and fill them. Their participation reduced waiting time in dispensaries and they had direct practice with microscopy for TB and malaria, among other diseases. We were very grateful for their participation.”

NUMAT eventually succeeded in expanding this partnership to include two local training institutions in the region – Gulu University Medical School and Gulu School for Clinical Officers – whose students were also involved in the COBES. This partnership represents a good example of public-private collaboration for responding to the health workforce crisis. The model has not only improved access to health services, but also increased the willingness of students to work in rural communities after graduation and raised local district governments’ interest to recruit them. Through COBES, a total of 447 students (101 female, 343 male) from different training schools were deployed for internship at 17 health facilities in Northern Uganda.

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