With this publication, WHO issues its first guidelines for Transforming and Scaling up Health Professionals' Education and Training. The guidelines are expected to give rise to regional and country based policy and technical dialogues with key stakeholders in education, health, finance and labour, on how best to finance health professional training and prepare health professionals for the 21st century.
The guidelines draw on the most recent evidence on what underpins the concept of transforming health professional education to frame the recommendations. The global health community has been made aware through reports, global meetings and policy dialogues, that there is a severe health workforce crisis in 57 countries globally as stated in the 2006 World Health Report. However, these workforce shortages are by no means confined to the 57 countries most severely affected. In virtually every country, shortages have been accompanied by an imbalance in skill mix of teams and uneven geographical distribution of health professionals, leaving millions without access to health services.
More professional health workers are needed, but it has become clear that efforts to scale up health professional education must not only increase the quantity of health workers, but also address issues of quality and relevance in order to address population health needs. Educational institutions need to increase their capacity to teach in terms of infrastructure but also: improve the competencies of existing staff and increase their numbers; reform admissions criteria; strengthen health professionals’ competencies by revising and updating curricula on a regular basis; and link the disease burden to training needs. For persons wishing to change careers mid-stream, or even students of other disciplines wishing to become health professionals, there should be pathways that make these changes possible. The international community has an important role to play by partnering in support of country-led efforts to achieve these reforms.
These recommendations should attract strong political commitment to regular and structured mechanisms for better collaboration between the education and health sectors, other national authorities and the private sector, with the intent to improve the match between health professional education and the realities of health service delivery. There are therefore recommendations which address: political commitment to reform of health professional education; formal collaboration and shared accountability between ministries of health, education and other related ministries; linkage to a national planning process; and the creation or strengthening of national and sub-national institutions.
It is the intention that these guidelines spark many dialogues in the public and private sector, including non-governmental organizations and fuel a growing movement to tackle the challenges facing the professional health workforce and contribute to a new era for health professional education.
Dr Margaret Chan
World Health Organization