Ready to go: young doctors facing health challenges in the developing world


On Friday December 19, a group of 23  enthusiastic, young medical doctors participated in the closing ceremony of the 136th Netherlands course in tropical medicine and Hygiene (NTC). They finished a three month intensive course at KIT where they learned about health problems in low income countries (LMIC), public health and those organisational aspects relevant to address these issues. Many of them will immediately leave after the course to work in challenging settings. Three of them will go to Sierra Leone in the next few weeks, a country that is hit hard by the current Ebola epidemic and one student is on his way to South Sudan, a country with a very poor health structure as a result of many decades of ongoing conflicts.

Double graduation ceremony

The recent Ebola crisis opened the eyes of many people around the globe. There is an urgent need to address issues of health and improve the existing health systems in the developing world. Fifteen of the 23 participants completed their training for ‘tropical doctor’ today. They have dedicated the past 2,5 years to make sure that they are equipped to work in low and middle income settings. The NTC comprised the final part of their training. Now they are ready to leave. A new graduate commented: “They promised to keep us busy at the beginning of the course and yes, they certainly did! This course really gave me insight to the broad aspects of health care in LMIC. For example, why don’t people come to a health centre? The course covered a wide range of topics such as the influence of different determinants of health, culture, health care systems, management, infectious diseases and epidemiologic research.”

Shared mission

Course coordinator Lisanne Gerstel: “It’s an honor to be part of the professional journey of these dedicated and brave health professionals. Many of them leave comfort, friends and family behind to work for a local salary in countries where day-to-day life is hampered by challenges like unreliable supply of electricity, a lack of medical equipment and scarce human resources to name a few. Their mission is similar to ours at KIT: to bring better health to those parts and people in the world that are facing the highest burdens of disease.”

A special mix

Among the graduates are also international students from LMIC: Myanmar, Belarus, Sudan, Egypt, Indonesia, and Pakistan. These students have started a one year master in international health (MIH) program. They left their families and loved ones for one year to invest in their abilities to contribute to international health. They will continue their training in various partner institutes in the TropEd network and afterwards return to their home countries, more knowledgeable and equipped with more skills, which are desperately needed in their settings.

Intercultural and interactive approach

Gerstel: “Our learning approaches include discussions, debates, case studies, role plays, simulations and serious games. It’s intense but we believe interactive and participatory learning is the best way to prepare people for the reality of the world they will face, turning theory into practice! All our participants have relevant working experience, and we use this in our classes. As a participant, you will be asked to discuss and solve problems which are derived from real working situations. An added advantage is the mix of Dutch and international students. Students learn with and from each other. The exchange of different views and different ways in communication between countries offers students great insights to incorporate in their future workplaces.

Mixed emotions

Although the closing ceremony is a happy occasion, mixed feelings are at the order of the day for family and friends. A mother said: “I am so proud to see my daughter graduate, but at the same time I’m sad to see her leaving so soon”.

Academic cooperation

KIT does not organize this course on its own. The NTC is jointly organized by the Vrije Universiteit Medical Centre (VU) in Amsterdam, the University Hospital of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT). The tropical doctor training is organized by the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Tropische Geneeskunde (NVTG).Our Master in International Health course is organized jointly with the TropEd network of institutes from all over the world.

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