“Guatema-lawi … no, no … Malawi-mala!” The three Guatemalan and three Malawian physicians, celebrating the completion of a six-week immersion program in Family Medicine, now collapsed together in laughter over what they would name the new country they had decided to found.
Growing more serious, they each described why their experiences during the immersion program, a collaboration between Providence St. Joseph Health (PSJH) and Swedish Medical Center, would change the course of their careers.
Modai Mnenula, M.D., Malawi College of Medicine, spoke last. With a quiet intensity he said, “I have learned so much, for which I am so grateful, but this program is not about me or any of the doctors at this table: this is about our patients. The thousands of patients who we will now be able to better care for and whose lives we will save. I am grateful to Providence and Swedish on behalf of all of those patients.”
The Global Family Medicine Collaboratory experience
This fall, PSJH Global Partnerships partnered with the Swedish Family Medicine residency program at First Hill to run the Global Family Medicine Collaboratory. The program was the brainchild of Elizabeth Hutchinson, MD, faculty of the residency program.
“I wanted to bring these doctors to Seattle for an immersion experience in Family Medicine,” said Dr. Hutchinson, “exposing them to one model of family medicine from which they could all pick and choose the pieces that would be applicable to the realities of their own context.”
The visiting physicians from University of Rafael Landivar, Guatemala and Malawi College of Medicine, Malawi, spent the mornings at the Global Primary Care Leadership Forum at the University of Washington. In the afternoons they had clinical rotations at Swedish, attended workshops and visited community clinics and global non-governmental organizations.
During off-hours, the group lived together in a house where they cooked, studied, and shared meals and stories of loved ones back home. They figured out bus routes together and explored the city. The loving communities of Swedish Family Medicine and Global Partnership alumni hosted the visitors for local adventures on the weekends. For six weeks, they were like a family.
Serving the poor and vulnerable abroad
The physicians attained medical knowledge and personal-growth from each other and U.S. mentors. As expressed by Dr. Mnenula, perhaps the most critical thing they gained was confidence in the vital importance of their contributions and leadership as family physicians in their home countries.
“In a country like Malawi or Guatemala, a significant presence of family physicians will strengthen primary care, which is the frontline in the war against disease; hence leading to high chances of winning the battle,” said Dr. Mnenula.
Malawi, in Africa, and Guatemala, in Central America, are low-resource countries with significant portions of the populations living with limited access to quality healthcare. In Malawi, there is only one physician for every 28,000 people. In rural Guatemala, where Providence Health & Services Global Partnership runs multiple programs, there is one physician for every 10,000 people.
Both countries are in different stages of looking to family medicine as a new practice in primary care that can provide gatekeepers to the health of their patients, prevent chronic disease and provide holistic care.
Dr. Hutchinson feels hopeful that the participants have learned a great deal, but through the lens of their own context, “With each idea or experience of primary care delivery, the Guatemalan and Malawian physicians were not thinking ‘how can we include that program in our context’ but rather ‘how can we use those ideas to create a program that fits in our context.’”