IFMSA 61st General Assembly in Mumbai

By Jenna T. Nakagawa
September 10, 2012

Dear IFMSA fans and folks of the Public Health interweb,

It has been one month since the 61st Annual General Assembly of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA). We were a delegation of nine from IFMSA-Grenada, welcomed to fancy hotel overlooking the lake of Mumbai, city-scape in the background and spoiled with the availability of good food, pool-side naps, the exciting exchange of e-mail addresses, and inspirational conversations with the youth of today, before they inevitably become the leaders of tomorrow.

Before the conference began, I attended a three-day workshop on Universal Health Care, hosted by the IFMSA Global Health Equity Initiative. Needless to say, the sessions were at once opportunities to socialize with medical students from different countries and rich educational experiences. On the first day, we joined about forty other students from over twenty different countries in a discussion of what universal health care will mean not only for ourselves as physicians, but for our countries’ health care systems. On the second day, we had the privilege of being led in small groups through the world’s second largest slum in the Gowendi area, just outside of metropolitan Mumbai. Upon our return, we discussed public health concerns and the responsibility of physicians toward social justice. Finally, on the third and last day, we enjoyed listening to wonderfully insightful expert in health policy and advocacy, and presented to each other the intricacies and implications of our own domestic health care systems. This workshop was followed by the week-long General Assembly, the program organized by IFMSA’s five core standing committees: Public Health, Reproductive Health and AIDS, Human Rights and Peace, Professional Exchange, and Research Exchange.

I was pleasantly reminded of why these meetings are important. We medical students come from different countries, cultures, languages, and belief systems. We come from airplanes and airports, traversing any number of routes airplanes could possibly carve in this world. Most relevantly, we come from fractured systems, whole populations of sick people who deserve a promise from their future doctors that everything will be okay—or, at least, a pledge to make things better. No amount of jet-lag could prevent us from opening those impossibly heavy eyelids, taking solace in coffee and sitting down with each other to learn a bit more, becoming a bit more powerful.

After all, at our cores, we are human beings, and there is a learning curve to this thing called “doctor.” We students, more than 900 strong, came together in Mumbai not assuming we knew anything about the world except for that which we’ve experienced ourselves— that which we want to change. With only inspiration and starry-eyed ideals behind us, we have everything to learn. So we attend workshops on things like presentation skills and community mobilization. We listen to our better-versed peers tell us how to “avoid burnout.” We share techniques on combating nervousness. There was even a workshop this year for using Facebook as a health care advocacy tool.

Contrary to our sweaty-palmed selves, to the public, to our patients, and even to our families, we medical professionals must be super-humans. Granted with the responsibility of protecting others’ lives, we are not allowed to make mistakes. We’re not really allowed to have much social lives, either, as evidenced by our schedules. We are, however, expected to be empathetic, conscious of pain and of our own responsibilities to alleviate suffering. Extended to global health, we are expected to stand for health equity, for human rights, for peace. It is obvious, then, how human-ness, in some cases our greatest weakness, is also our greatest strength. I was once told by a mentor that making accurate diagnoses will make a doctor good, but understanding how these outcomes fit into the larger picture of a patient’s life will make a doctor great.

So it turns out: We are not birds, nor planes. At best, we have a lot of frequent flyer miles and something driving us. As visionaries and aspiring professionals, however, we are the future. As an organization, we are even more powerful, for we have a unified understanding of our priorities and can educate ourselves accordingly. As an international body, no less, we naturally emphasize both local and global collaboration, focusing on our own impact while getting at the heart of what will make us good doctors—and good healers.

Thank you for the support that gives us the courage to do what we do.


Jenna Nakagawa
On behalf of your IFMSA-Grenada Delegation

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