The Ministry of Health reviewed health profession education reforms with support from WHO and the Luxembourg Government

The Ministry of Health led a consultative workshop on health profession education reforms, which was chaired by the Health Minister, Assoc Prof Dr Bounkong Syhavong. This is a follow up to the Mekong Sub-Regional Meeting on Health Professional Education Reforms held in Viet Nam earlier this year.

Speaking at the workshop, Assoc Prof Dr Syhavong said “We need to align proposed reforms with the Universal Health Coverage and Sustainable Development Goals targets. To achieve the goals, there is a need to improve the quality of health education, strengthen the grassroots network so that the community trust the health professionals and we can reach the underserved population.”

An overview of the health profession education situation in this Region revealed several recurring educational issues. The challenges faced include shortages of qualified educators; inadequate budgets and resources of educational institutions in some developing countries; poor linkages between service demands and educational outputs means that educational programmes must be brought in line with countries' health-care needs.

At the same time, there is a need for countries to focus on the changing health priorities; and change the way of learning, where traditional teaching and learning methods often based on rote learning should refocus on student development of critical thinking, clinical reasoning and problem-solving skills. These views were echoed by the academia from Department of Training and Research and University of Health Sciences presenting at this workshop.

The global economy is projected to create around 40 million new health sector jobs by 2030; mostly in middle- and high- income countries. Despite the anticipated growth in jobs, there will be a projected shortage of 18 million health workers needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals primarily in low and lower-middle income countries. The rising demand and need for health workers over the next fifteen years, presents significant challenges.

This is compounded by rapid changes around the world, which is transforming healthcare environments, services and health profession education in countries. The role of health professionals is being shaped by changing scientific, epidemiological, global demographic and socioeconomic trends.

Dr Juliet Fleischl, WHO Representative to Lao PDR said “Many countries in this Region including Lao PDR have been experiencing shortages of health professionals including qualified educators. Workforce shortages combined with skill-mix imbalances and a concentration of health workers in cities will leave many people without access to quality health services. We need to effectively address this issue if we were to effectively deliver Universal Health Coverage goals.”

Simply producing more health professionals is not the solution. Many of the presenters reiterated on the shortage of qualified educators raised by Dr Fleischl, which determined the quality of health professional education. There is also the debate of quality versus quantity, where only one-thirds of graduates are absorbed into the health systems.

Dr Outtavong Phattammavong from the Luxembourg Development conducted a study survey with students addressing the health profession education reform challenges and concluded that there is a lack of structured high quality clinical teaching exposure and no structured student assessment policy in place.”

Many of the recent medical graduates felt that they do not have sufficient clinical knowledge and skills to work independently without supervision. They would like to improve on clinical skills, knowledge of medicine and on morals and ethics when practising medicine.

As the University of Health Science does not have a university hospital, students spent more than 80 per cent of their time on lectures and less than 20 per cent on clinical practices. Overcoming this challenge and offering medical students more clinical practices opportunities may be one of the consideration for the health profession education reforms.

Dr Juliet Fleischl and Dr Bounkong Syhavong (Health Minister), chairing the health profession education reforms workshop
Participants from MOH and development partners at the workshop