The Interaction of Traditional and Modern Medicine in Low Income Settings


MSIH prides itself in the extent of its Global Health immersion. Wherever possible, students are exposed to issues, people, problems, and solutions that affect populations around the world.

As part of this immersion, second year students meet with fourth years who have recently returned from clinical clerkships in MSIH partner institutions in resource-scare settings. They are encouraged to ask questions of their peers, to learn from them, and to prepare themselves for their own experience in later years.

Questions are fascinating. More often than expected, answers are even more fascinating:

“In what ways did alternative/traditional medicine interact with medical care in your site?”

The consensus was that although there’s general disdain for such medicine, it has its place and often offers comfort in circumstances where nothing else is available. (One student even recounted an anecdote where a highly-respected senior physician relied on the word of a local “connection” to predict which patients would live and which will die.)

Answering Questions

All 4th year students expressed awe at the competence and knowledge of the local doctors they worked with in each and every site.

“Because they don’t have the resources and facilities of modern medicine, they need to rely on what they have. Their medical knowledge is deep, and their clinical skills, highly developed,” expressed one student who worked in Ghana.

“But the most interesting thing we learnt is that Global Health isn’t just in low-income settings,” explained another student. “I was working in a hospital where people had to wait weeks to share a bed with another patient, nobody cleaned the rooms, there was no soap in the bathroom, and temperatures were consistently uncomfortably hot and humid. I was talking to a local doctor in the hospital who looked at me in amazement when I told him there are people dying of measles in America.”

“This is one of the highlights of our Global Health year,” says Mike Diamond, MSIH GH Coordinator. “After their eight-week clerkships, fourth years students are seasoned “resource-scarce clinicians”. They’ve observed circumstances they’d never experience in a modern environment and it’s amazing to watch their enthusiasm as they recount what they’ve learnt, and share it with second years who are about to enter their clinical years.”

“I’m proud that this learning experience is what MSIH is all about.”

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