Transformative Education
for Health Professionals

Health as a bridge to peace: the role of transformative education

Healthcare workers have undeniably and increasingly served as frontline responders in mitigating the fallout of conflicts. (Source: ICRC)


In commemoration of the International Day of Peace on September 21, Ibukun Adepoju of the European Medical Students’ Association examines the need for a new cadre of health professionals prepared for health and peace work in a world of conflict and instability.

Over the past months, there has been a global upset of both peace and health across the world – Ukraine-Russia crisis, Israel-Gaza conflict, ISIS militants, Boko Haram, the disturbing fate of Syrian refugees, Ebola epidemic, to name a few. The fast-paced complex process of globalization enables the effects of war and terror in any given part of our world to affect people from other countries, including those that do not at first glance seem connected to the roots of conflict.

Healthcare professionals have undeniably and increasingly served an important role as frontline responders in mitigating the fallout of conflicts and epidemics. Unfortunately, generally there is no training in health care management in conflict or disaster situations that is provided to medical students and other health professionals, more so in peace building and conflict resolution. Hence, this additional demand to adapt to such difficult situations amplifies the importance of recent calls for transformative medical education.

Today, healthcare workers have had to take up the overlapping yet delicate responsibilities of a clinician and a peace advocate while serving in conflict-laden zones. This is not an easy task, and in the absence of background training in peace education and conflict negotiation, health workers may put their lives in danger and also even complicate the situation on the ground.

In 1981, the World Health Assembly passed Resolution 34.38 which stated that “the role of physicians and other health workers in the preservation and promotion of peace is the most significant factor for the attainment of health for all." Now, the question is, how can we prepare the next generation of health professionals so that they can fulfil this obligation? Is there a role for health professions education to address the deficits in knowledge, skills and values required for health and peace work?

We can look to several examples. For instance, a European network of medical peace organizations and teaching institutions – Medical Peace Work – developed a set of free online courses on peace education. Educational institutions such as the University of Tromsø in Norway, Eastern University in Sri Lanka, and McMaster University in Canada have structured programs in peace and health as mandatory or optional courses. Furthermore, other organisations involved directly or indirectly in integrating peace education as part of their training activities include the International Committee of the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières and the World Health Organization with its Health as a Bridge for Peace (HBP) training program.

Good practices and lessons learned from these models should be collated and utilized in order to develop a core peace and health curriculum that can be adopted by health professions educational institutions globally. For example, in his research on medical peace education, Melf reports that exchange programmes for students, supervised field work, and experience-based lectures were considered the most effective delivery methods.

Transformative medical education was a recurring theme at the recently concluded conference of the Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) in Milan, Italy. To draw from Richard Horton’s keynote speech, there is an urgent need to walk backwards in the intervention continuum and start earlier – to broaden the transformation concept to include earlier phases in the training of health professionals in order to ensure a solid foundation for professional ethics and values.

The current structure of medical training is not yet poised to deliver the additional competencies for a rapidly changing and complex world. Health workers of the future will never be relevant in improving patient outcomes and attaining global health equity by simply acting within the limits of a white coat. The framework of medical education therefore needs to be re-imagined, and peace building is just one of many needed skills that must be incorporated into the training of the next generation of doctors and healthcare providers – if we want them to foster lasting peace and ultimately transform the world for the better.


Ibukun Adepoju holds a Medical degree and a BA(HSS) Community & Health Psychology. She is currently pursuing a Master of Global Health at Maastricht University and is the Vice President External Affairs of the European Medical Students’ Association.

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