The complex relationships involved in global health: A qualitative description

Anne E. McCarthy*, Andrew Petrosoniak, Lara Varpio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Growing numbers of medical trainees now participate in global health experiences (GHEs) during their training. To enhance these experiences we sought to explore expectations inherent in the relationships between GHE stakeholder groups. Methods. 20 open-ended, semi-structured interviews probed participant perceptions and assumptions embedded in GHEs. A fundamental qualitative descriptive approach was applied, with conventional content analysis and constant comparison methods, to identify and refine emerging themes. Thematic structure was finalized when saturation was achieved. Participants all had experience as global health participants (10 trainees, 10 professionals) from an urban, academic, Canadian medical centre. Results: We identified three stakeholder groups: participants (trainees and professionals), host communities, and sponsoring institutions. During interviews, four major themes emerged: (i) cultural challenges, (ii) expectations and perceptions, (iii) relationships and communication, and (iv) discordant objectives. Within each theme, participants recurrently described tensions existing between the three stakeholder groups. Conclusions: GHE participants frequently face substantial tensions with host communities and sponsoring agencies. Trainees are particularly vulnerable as they lack experience to navigate these tensions. In the design of GHEs, the needs of each group must be considered to ensure that benefits outweigh potential harms. We propose a conceptual model for developing educational objectives that acknowledge all three GHE stakeholder groups.

Original languageEnglish
Article number136
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Global health
  • Medical education
  • Trainees


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