Value and feasibility of South-South Medical Elective Exchanges in Africa

BMC Med Educ. 2020 Sep 21;20(1):319. doi: 10.1186/s12909-020-02224-z.

Abstract

Background: An elective is part of the curriculum where students have the flexibility to choose both the study topic and location. International medical electives are a well-established part of curricula at most medical schools in high-income countries. They are highly valued by students and have proven educational benefits, though do come with challenges, such as lack of reciprocity. Low and middle-income countries frequently host students from high-income countries providing learning opportunities, yet also carry the burden of supervision and resource consumption, whilst their students get few elective opportunities. This study explores the value and feasibility of South-South Medical Elective Exchanges (SSMEE), which creates elective opportunities for African medical students in other African countries to create reciprocity within the elective system.

Method: A qualitative evaluation of the South-South Medical Elective Exchanges was conducted using a case study approach. Four African medical schools, College of Medicine, Malawi; University of Rwanda, Rwanda; University of Witwatersrand, South Africa and Makerere University, Uganda participated in the pilot study in 2017/18. Each institution selected two students to participate in a four-week elective to another participating institute. Participating students completed a pre-elective questionnaire and a post-elective interview exploring expectations, learning outcomes, challenges and how they are applying this learning. Data was analysed thematically.

Results: Data presented is from six of the eight participating students. All students found the elective a valuable experience and learning was demonstrated in four key areas: clinical knowledge and skills; attitudes; personal and professional development and global perspectives. For some, it challenged their assumptions of what an elective is because valuable learning can be achieved whilst remaining in Africa. The main challenge found related to funding the elective.

Conclusions: The SSMEE model is feasible and provides valuable learning for participating students and their peers/colleagues. Financing electives remains the biggest challenge. Since this pilot study, SSMEE has become part of a regional elective exchange network in Africa with an additional four institutions in three other countries. As such SSMEE has resulted in increased opportunities for African medical students and better educational outcomes that are likely to have a positive effect on healthcare systems in Africa.

Keywords: Evaluation; Global health; Low income countries; Medical electives; Student feedback.