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Dr Catherine Calderwood at THET Conference

The Tropical Health Education Trust, or THET, founded in 1988 by Professor Sir Eldryd Parry, has a mission statement of:

“Training health workers to build a world where everyone has access to affordable and quality healthcare.”

As part of this mission, an annual two-day conference is held, this year at Imperial College London, inviting healthcare professionals, health economists, healthcare policy-makers and other key stakeholders in local and global health and education to come together to share ideas and collaborate through keynote talks and panel discussions, breakout sessions and workshops; partnerships being a key facet of the work of THET.

The Medics Academy Team at THET, 2018.

I was lucky enough to have attended this year’s THET Conference as part of the Medics.Academy team, who provided their Conference Legacy Package to the event, including filming many of the keynote speakers, interviewing speakers behind the scenes and live social media updates throughout the event.

One such keynote speaker was Dr Catherine Calderwood, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland and obstetrician and gynaecologist – the only CMO to have ever continued to practice clinically throughout her appointment in health policy.

Dr Calderwood spoke emotively on a situation, encountered on her elective in Sub-Saharan Africa, that initially inspired her to embark on a career in obstetrics and gynaecology; a heart-rending decision made between two labouring mothers, both of whom needed Caesarean sections in order to delivery safely, but for whom access to the equipment and skillset of practitioners to perform the procedure was only available for one.

This decision was made by the local clinicians based solely on the economic status of the two women – a devastating Catch 22 that not only inspired Dr Calderwood to become an obstetrician, but also drew her attention to the need for the world to aim for universal, accessible healthcare, as is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“It was a privilege to be in attendance at Dr Calderwood’s talk”

Through her work as CMO for Scotland, Dr Calderwood has been instrumental in implementing programmes both at home and abroad to enable and empower healthcare professionals of all disciplines – not just doctors – to provide gold standard, free at the point of use healthcare. This includes work on reducing stillbirths and neonatal deaths in Scotland, with a strong focus on using patient led feedback in order to improve services in a patient centred manner. She spoke on her work on levelling health inequality across communities in Scotland, and the challenges of providing healthcare infrastructure to some of the most remote and rural places in the UK.

As CMO for Scotland Dr Calderwood has also worked on developing partnerships between Scottish healthcare workers and healthcare programmes in less economically developed countries. A key point in her discussion of the work linking practitioners working in Scotland with professionals across the globe was the concept of global citizenship; and how this concept is built into the Scottish education system, including medical training. She spoke about her involvement with the new Scottish Global Citizenship Programme, which aims to collaboratively and holistically provide translational NHS services to developing countries.

As a medical student in the NHS, it is easy to become accustomed to the everyday flaws and issues in the NHS; and even become disillusioned by the seemingly never-ending training pathway, culminating in what feels like endless paperwork, re-accreditation and appraisal and the endless talk of medic ‘resilience,’ a media-friendly buzzword that could be argued to serve to use physicians’ supposed personal failings to paper over the cracks in a woefully underfunded system. Particularly as we steer our healthcare system into the murky tides of Brexit, the idea of being a global citizen may become ever more integral in forming overseas partnerships that provide bi-directional benefit to both parties, as THET itself promotes in their partnerships.

As an aspiring obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a citizen of the world, the work of THET and its associates is of great interest to me. I cannot understate its importance. It was a privilege to be in attendance at Dr Calderwood’s talk; and, indeed, all of the talks across the two days of the conference. Attending the THET Conference and being afforded the opportunity to engage with – and I don’t use this term lightly – inspirational doctors such as Dr Calderwood, who have made tangible, large-scale improvements to health across the globe, was a refreshing change and has allowed me to envision my own future as a clinician who can have impact on local and global health. After all, as I learnt, ‘global health is local health.’

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