Collaborative spirit

Global Outreach | Emily Lund
By Carolyn Bernhardt

Location: Morocco
Mission: Crossing borders to remedy rural physician shortages

Patients and doctors alike feel reverberations of the physician shortage in rural Morocco. University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth Campus students couldn’t help but notice that the physicians they shadowed at six clinics and hospitals across the country last June raced through their clinic rounds. 

“The average time spent with each patient was 3 to 5 minutes, or sometimes less,” recalls second-year medical student Emily Lund, who made the trip with three classmates.

Regional campus dean Paula Termuhlen, M.D., had traveled with Ruth Westra, D.O., M.P.H., and Mustafa al’Absi, Ph.D., both with the Department of Family Medicine and BioBehavioral Health, in January 2017 to explore possible medical education opportunities. 

Despite the rushed exams, the Duluth faculty members found Morocco’s solutions to combating its nationwide shortage of rural doctors — also a problem in the United States and in many other countries throughout the world — to be resourceful and cooperative.  

“You see a lot of rural medical professionals working together in the same space,” says al’Absi. “We thought that was a great way for professionals to consult with one another. And we were impressed with the collaborative spirit held by the minister of health and our colleagues at the University of Fez.” 

Physician with an infant

(Photos: Emily Lund)

Termuhlen, Westra, and al’Absi hope to build a collaborative relationship with the University of Fez so that the student trip can continue annually. Lund and her fellow student participants are helping to select next year’s cohort, as well as looking into ways to host Moroccan medical students in Minnesota to build reciprocity. 

The students’ five-day observational visit to Morocco, a culturally and religiously diverse crossroads between the Mediterranean and Francophone Africa, proved enlightening. The students were able to talk openly with their Moroccan peers and physicians about institutional solutions to the rural physician shortage. They also had the chance to shadow doctors in the clinic. One Moroccan doctor in particular stood out to the group. 

“He got out from behind his desk and was very gentle and interactive,” says Lund. “One patient turned to us and said, ‘This is the best doctor I have ever had. He listens to what my body and I are saying.’”

Regardless of the circumstance, one thing perpetually holds true, says Lund: “Across all these different borders and barriers between Morocco and the U.S., the patient always wants to be listened to and treated with respect.”

Published on April 25, 2018

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For more information or to submit your photo or story, email managing editor Nicole Endres at nendres@umn.edu.