Background: Globalization in medical education often means a "brain drain" of desperately needed health professionals from low- to high-income countries. Despite the best intentions, partnerships that simply transport students to Western medical schools for training have shockingly low return rates. Ethiopia, for example, has sent hundreds of physicians abroad for specialty training over the past 30 years, the vast majority of whom have not returned. This represents a highly problematic net transfer of financial and human resources from the Ethiopian people to Western countries that have failed to develop their own adequate health human resource plans.
Methods: With this background in mind, in 2003 Addis Ababa University invited the University of Toronto to collaborate on the first Ethiopian psychiatric residency program to be run entirely in Ethiopia. Called the Toronto Addis Ababa Psychiatry Project (TAAPP), it was established on the principle of supplementing the ability of the small Addis Ababa University Department of Psychiatry to teach, provide clinical supervision, and to help develop educational capacity. Over the last 6 years the model has involved a large number of University of Toronto faculty and residents who have spent blocks of 1 month each in Addis Ababa.
Results: This article describes the first three phases of TAAPP (I) Development of a model residency program; (II) Enhancing clinical, educational and leadership capacity; and (III) Sustainability, faculty development, and continuing education. Between 2003 and 2009, the number of psychiatrists in Ethiopia increased from 11 to 34; the Addis Ababa University Department of Psychiatry faculty increased members from three to nine. There are new departments of psychiatry established in four other university hospitals in Ethiopia outside the capital city. Mental health services are now being integrated within the national system of primary care.
Conclusion: An important issue that underscores such a partnership is the risk of simply exporting Western, America-centric psychiatric training versus creating culturally appropriate models of education.