In 2015, at the end of the Ebola crisis, Liberia had just 80 physicians providing care for a population of over four million, one of the lowest physician-to-population ratios worldwide. That year, Liberian officials began inviting partners from around the world, including Yale School of Medicine (YSM), to collaborate on rebuilding the health system in the West African country. In the new paper “Transforming Medical Education in Liberia through an International Community of Inquiry,” Kristina Talbert-Slagle, PhD, assistant professor of medicine (general medicine) and first author, describes the subsequent six-year process.
Talbert-Slagle led multiple research studies in 2016, 2017, and 2018, which included surveys and interviews at Liberia’s only medical school, A.M. Dogliotti School of Medicine (AMD), to learn about the challenges faculty and students there faced. She came back to YSM to synthesize her data, then returned to Liberia to present findings to the then-dean of AMD and to Bernice Dahn, MD, MPH, who was Liberia’s Minister of Health.
Among the findings were that the facilities were crumbling, the curriculum was outdated, and the students couldn’t afford to buy food because they were not receiving their government stipends on time. Talbert-Slagle was nervous about having to report this feedback, but the response she received was very positive: Dahn and other senior leaders were eager to learn what needed to be fixed.
“Our partners’ receptiveness to the negative findings from our studies helped us move forward together,” Talbert-Slagle said.
As a result of the assessments, a decision was made to revamp medical education in Liberia, including restructuring AMD and revising the curriculum so that patient care and preclinical sciences were integrated from the start. In addition, a STEM camp was created to better prepare 11th and 12th graders interested in biomedical sciences.
One of the keys to the success of the international collaboration—and the subsequent reforms—was the formation of a “community of inquiry,” in which partners from both inside and outside Liberia grew and adapted together through a mutual learning effort, Talbert-Slagle explained. The different groups joined together even though many of them had never met before and were funded by different sources, she said.
Talbert-Slagle considers the study an exciting new development in global health and medicine. “I believe that this is going to transform the way that physicians are trained in Liberia and will improve medical care,” she said.
The paper can be read in PLOS Global Public Health.
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