Students who are planning to be health professionals need to be aware of the importance of patient safety. According to the World Health Organization "Patient safety is a worldwide public health problem, but the issues around patient safety differ depending on the setting, local culture and available resources". In the US, the concept of patient safety is well defined, and identifies best practices in healthcare settings. Trained health professionals understand the need for processes and protocols that assure a safe environment for patients, and yet, in the US, we still see medical mistakes. It is estimated that medical mistakes might be the third highest cause of death in the US behind heart disease and cancer. If this level of risk exists with highly trained professionals in highly controlled environments, imagine the risks with untrained students, especially in under-resourced communities! When untrained students go abroad anywhere, but especially in an under-resourced community and perform clinical procedures, they are endangering the safety of vulnerable and unsuspecting patients.
Health Professionals Need to Follow Ethical and Legal Guidelines
Health professionals licensed in the US have legal and ethical guidelines they must follow both in this country and when they go abroad. This includes operating within professional scope of practice and providing care that is officially sanctioned by the host country. All care should be provided under the direction of a legal authority or a licensed health professional and be technically and culturally appropriate.
Students Should Not Provide Direct Patient Care
If the need to follow guidelines is true for health professionals, it is especially true for students not yet in a health profession, or even those in a health profession program but not yet licensed. A student should never provide care for which he or she has not been sufficiently trained and been given the authority to do so by the legal system of that country. Consider this: if you can't do it in this country, you shouldn't do it in another country!
Students who are unlicensed and not health professionals need to be learners not doers. They should not provide direct patient care, including testing, diagnosing, or treating patients unless they have reached that level of training in a health profession program and are licensed or working under the direct supervision of an appropriate licensed health professional.
By learning about ethical best practices before they go, students can better serve their own goals while protecting their future and assuring patient safety.