Articles and Case Studies

A Hive of Innovation for Global Health Care

05 Dec 2016

by Connor Rochford


In August 2016, nearly 800 medical students from more than 100 countries swarmed to Mexico for the 65th General Assembly (GA) of the International Federation of Medical Students' Association (IFMSA).

From the outside looking in, this gathering can appear somewhat like a bee-hive – a chaotic buzz of aspiring health system leaders and advocates. What exactly are the bees doing? Why are they doing it? How do they organise themselves? On closer inspection, the GA is actually an ordered and very productive hive of activity.

The IFMSA General Assembly

The IFMSA represents 1.2 million medical students worldwide. It exemplifies the vision of a world where medical students unite for global health and are equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to take on health leadership roles, both locally and globally. Activities of the IFMSA include numerous projects, campaigns, conferences and workshops organised by different countries in the fields of public health, sexual and reproductive health, medical education, human rights and peace.

The IFMSA GA is among the largest youth-led events around the world. The meeting creates a dynamic environment for the exchange of ideas, creation of friendships, and development of advocacy priorities for the following 12 months. IFMSA GAs are held twice a year – in March and August.

Broadly speaking, GA’s include the following; meeting of different working groups within the federation; governance and decision-making sessions; training opportunities for personal and professional development; and project and activity sessions They are attended by medical students who are selected as representatives of their country’s national medical organisation. The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA), which represents 17,000 medical students, sends a delegation of approximately 12 students to every GA.

Reflections from within

The August GA is the second IFMSA meeting I’ve attended; the first was the 2014 March meeting in Tunisia. To describe the Tunisian experience as “eye opening” would be an understatement. As an introduction to global health diplomacy it served dual purposes. First, it consolidated my value of health for all; the pursuit of global health equity. At the same time, it increased my awareness of the challenges both individuals and organisations must overcome to improve health outcomes. As a young medical student, my first GA introduced me to a whole new world.

I quickly learnt that medical students are not merely passive subjects in a rapidly globalising world – but rather, valuable contributors with a potentially powerful role to play in global health. Through debating and discussing many real and pressing health issues worldwide I began to make sense of the complex nuances of global health policy and diplomacy. Perhaps of most benefit was the recognition that idealistic goals can be achieved with readily attainable knowledge and commitment.

The 2016 medical student delegation could loosely be described as a dream team of future global health leaders – the chair of the AMSA board, the AMSA president, and one particularly energetic IFMSA aficionado who has attended no less than five times. It was an absolute privilege to continue my global health journey with these friends and colleagues.

In addition to buzzing around enjoying inspiring and thought-provoking conversations I was also able to present my research findings from my honours thesis at the Scientific Poster Fair. Discussing the understanding and insights gained through my qualitative research project – A policy perspective on the financial sustainability of the Australian healthcare system – with international colleagues greatly augmented my existing research experience.

Participation in the 2016 GA has allowed me to access innovative ideas, new perspectives and wise friendships. I am incredibly grateful for the financial support provided by MDA National that enabled this opportunity.

View more information:

Connor Rochford (MDA National Member)
Final year Medical Student
Monash University, Melbourne

Connor Rochford

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