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Mentoring overseas medical students

Sharing your GP knowledge with students in the developing world is rewarding, says Dr Vibhore Prasad.

Have you reached a stage in your career at which you feel able to help a younger or less experienced health professional? If so, have you considered mentoring someone in the developing world?

This is not as difficult as you might think because you can stay in contact by email. An international organisation, the Network Towards Unity for Health (NTUH), has a mentoring scheme that can help UK GPs make contact with medical students and junior doctors overseas. Set up in 1979, it covers all health professionals around the world.

UK GPs can become mentors through the NTUH without meeting students or medics in person. However, I think the relationship will get off to a better start if you attend an annual conference and meet individuals looking for mentors. The next conference is in Uganda in September, see below.

Different cultures
I started by mentoring a medical student in the Philippines whom I met at an NTUH conference in Australia. At that time, he was a final-year medical student and I was a junior doctor who knew little about his home country.

The biggest challenge for me was understanding his cultural and political context. Although I had some experience of mentoring students in this country, I was rather lost on some issues.

For example, he told me he rarely had a day off. Home was a house shared with other final-year medical students who were also working almost seven days a week.

I am now on my second mentorship, assisting a Sudanese medical student, Ahmed Fanabee, whom I met at an NTUH conference in Vietnam.

Using email, Ahmed and I discuss his career aims and the ways in which I can assist practically. I have, for instance, corrected his English and helped him to draft the write-up of a project he had worked on for a primary care-orientated journal.

I am also working with him to set up an exchange scheme for electives with medical students from the developed world. We are meeting some barriers, such as the reluctance of some medical schools to send their students to the Sudan. But Ahmed is working hard to persuade his medical school to foster overseas links.

Mentoring is both challenging and rewarding. There are practical problems with mentoring someone overseas, but it is a two-way learning experience.

I am learning as much about medical education in the Sudan as Ahmed is learning about the UK.

Unfortunately, due to the costs involved, meeting in person again may not be possible. NTUH does not have the funds to pay for GPs to attend its conferences but you do get to learn about health services and medical education in disadvantaged parts of the world- and, perhaps, see them in action for yourself.

Dr Prasad is a GP in Wakefield, West Yorkshire and a clinical lecturer at Nottingham University

The network towards unity for health

  • The NTUH (www.the-networktufh.org) is supported by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, the World Health Organisation, national governments and other bodies.
  • The next annual meeting is in Kampala, Uganda, 15-20 September with a post-conference visit to Mbarara University's Faculty of Medicine on 21-23 September. You can apply until early September.

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