Andrew Burd on the globalisation of medical education

Andrew BurdI have just returned from Shantou in Southern China where I was attending an international conference on medical education.  The conference was hosted by Shantou University and was attended by delegates from 10 of the world’s leading medical schools, all of whom have benefited from the wonderful philanthropy of Sir Li Ka-Shing. Shantou University Medical College is relatively young but very ambitious and the dean, Jiang Gu welcomed the delegates to a school which is renowned as “an experimental ground for higher medical education reform in China.”  Plenary talks included an exciting exposition of the role for advanced technology in medical education given by Mark B Taubman, dean of the school of medicine and dentistry, University of Rochester.   This was followed by Patrick Sissons from the School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge who gave an inspiring and encouraging overview of the Cambridge MB, PhD programme and UK academic medical training.

It was an intensive two day meeting set in a beautiful campus. After the plenary session the participants divided into two groups to cover a wide range of topics including medical education reform, curriculum structure and content, teaching methods and examinations, clinical training, moral education, graduate education and continuous medical education.

In the final plenary session, Steven Kanter, Vice Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and editor in chief of Academic Medicine gave a delightfully informative overview of how to publish scholarly work in medical education.

One of the highlights for me was an inspiring and philosophical paper titled “Whither Humanities” given by Sum-ping Lee, dean of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at University of Hong Kong. This prompted an all too brief discussion on the difference between ethics and morals and the need for emphasising both in the development of medical professionalism.

Cynthia Irvine, assistant dean for medical education at Stanford University gave a more “touchy feely” presentation on longitudinal mentoring of medical students and talked of the declining empathy of students as they became more immersed in the realities of medicine.  Of note “touchy feely” is not a pejorative comment but I use it to conjure up the impression I gained from Cynthia’s obvious care and concern about the personal welfare of her students.  This aspect of student “wellness” was reflected in several talks that described mentorship programs and other initiatives to support medical students during their long, stressful, and competitive journey in the acquisition of the medical degree.

This is not a report of the meeting nor a report on the highlights, as all the presentations were excellent. It was truly inspiring to see so many gathered together committed to making the world a better place.  Frieda Law, representing the Li Ka Shing Foundation and also a consultant paediatrician at Shantou University Medical College brought the meeting to an end with the positive affirmation that each and every speaker and participant had enriched and been enriched by this wonderful meeting of minds.

The conference was the 5th in a series of East West alliance meetings supported by the Li Ka Shing Foundation.  As we left the news circulated that the venue will again be in Shantou next year.  A wonderful choice as this is where vision and reality are coming together in a most remarkable way.

Andrew Burd is professor of plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgery at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His major clinical interests involve paediatric burns care and the role of plastic surgery in the palliation of advanced malignancy. Academic interests include pragmatic ethics related to the practice of medicine including research and publication.