How summer schools can fill the gap in Global Surgery knowledge of medical students and surgeons

23 Sep 2021

By Gabriela Azevedo Sansoni

Global Surgery is a hot topic, but is it often part of formal curricula for medical students and surgical trainees? 

A lot of papers have been published calling attention to gaps in education about Global Surgery, and more generally, Global Health, in medical education. In theory it would be possible  to squeeze in another mandatory course and add a few more hours of lectures and seminars for  the already busy students and residents. But would it be efficient?

I, of course, don’t have this answer.

I do think, however, that Global Surgery is an important yet not-often-mentioned topic, particularly compared with  other surgical specialities. Global Surgery education  should guide and capacitate surgeons (and nurses, anesthesiologists, OR assistants, etc) to work in different settings with varying levels of resources. I am privileged, in a certain way, for having personal and educational  experiences in low and high resource hospitals, middle and high income countries. I am interested, in the future, to practice in diverse environments, so I felt that I needed a better understanding of the topic.

Since I know that my university does not include extensive lectures about the topic, I decided to apply for a scholarship to the Utrecht University Summer School. I was very grateful to receive a fee-waiver that allowed me to join their programme on Global Surgery & Ob-Gyn. 

I was in a virtual classroom together with other medical students, surgical residents, and surgeons. The environment was super international – I was following the courses from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and there were colleagues from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Hong Kong, Germany, Suriname and the Netherlands, just to mention a few. The lectures were given by equally international specialists which made the whole course a real co-learning experience. It was a safe space for listening to diverse experiences, viewpoints, and teachings from different places without the (neo-)colonizing approach that is sadly sometimes observed in Academic Global Surgery & Global Health.

Everyday there would be an open invitation for someone to discuss a relevant case to start the day. I had the opportunity to present a case from my hemato-oncology internship done in Brazil that served to kick off the Global Oncology day of the summer school and to shine a light on how low resource places deal with the high burdens of oncological diagnosis, treatments, and follow ups.

Some interesting ethical questions arose – for example, what if you are practicing in a low resource country that allows you to be creative and use techniques and materials that would never be approved by the high resource country where you trained as a surgeon- would you operate the patient using these? Some heartbreaking stories were told – have you heard of Chanceline, who had to walk 5h to the doctor’s appointment when she was pregnant? And also some heartwarming moments happened – when everyone shared pictures of the sky of where they were or when someone’s baby loudy announced it had woken up to the whole Zoom meeting just after one of the heartbreaking stories.

Overall, I found the summer school to be the right fit for me to engage with a subject in which  I felt my knowledge was lacking. Similar programmes exist in Europe and beyond, and I recommend anyone interested in learning more about Global Surgery to spend part of their summer (or fall, or winter!) focusing on it.

Gabriela Azevedo Sansoni is a student at the International Medical School University of Milan. She is the president and founder of the Association of Women Surgeons chapter in her university and coordinates different projects with her peers that aim to bring surgery closer to medical students. Instagram @awsunimi Website:

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