Sub-Saharan Africa has 24% of the global burden of disease, yet only 3% of the world’s healthcare workforce. Recently, these statistics have become especially salient with the current Ebola outbreak. The recruitment and retention of physicians in these countries is challenging, especially with the lack of medical schools.
In Namibia, the first medical school was founded in 2010 and the first class of students will graduate this December. Filmmaker and Vanderbilt University medical student Trisha Pasricha captured the journey of medical students at the University of Namibia in her short film, “A Doctor of My Own.” The Program of African Studies and IPD hosted a screening with a Q&A session with Pasricha on Tuesday as part of International Education Week at Northwestern.
The University of Namibia School of Medicine was funded in part by the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a part of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). In the documentary, multiple medical students mentioned the high-quality facilities in interviews, with clips of the school to support their claims. However, as one professor in the film remarked, “Buildings don’t make a school. People make a school.” The emphasis of the school is on the students and, as such, a curriculum has been devised and tailored specifically for their needs in the context of health in Namibia.
Many of the students in the film expressed the sentiment that they feel a “huge social responsibility” or “requirement” to heal their country from within and give back to their communities. Despite the passion and determination of the students, finding doctors to work in the rural clinics proves challenging. The lack of resources, tools, and clinicians, prevents a doctor from doing his job well, as one of the students described. For this reason, as well as financial ones, many physicians emigrate to urban areas or to other countries to practice.
One way the University of Namibia is working against this trend is through a mandatory one-month rural community project in their third year of school. Field experience in rural clinics increased students’ desires to work in such environments in the future. As the students graduate in December, Pasricha plans to follow up with them and see if the ones keen on rural work ultimately pursued it.
Another method is the quota system the University of Namibia has in place, requiring a certain number of students from each region of the country. The students are high-achieving high-schoolers who score well on a standardized exam, analogous to the SAT. By bringing students from all areas, including the most rural, it makes it more likely that students will return to their home communities, increasing the spread of doctors throughout the nation.
Students, faculty members, and Evanston community members attended the film screening. The film was released in 2012 but has become more popular after the current Ebola outbreak. It has not yet been shown in Namibia, but Pasricha hopes to host a private screening with the student stars of the documentary when she returns to Namibia.
To find out more about the documentary, visit http://adoctorofmyown.wordpress.com/about/.