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Moving Professional Medical Learning to the Heart of Field Reality

The MSF Academy for Healthcare is professionalizing learning for healthcare workers in MSF projects, which is essential to improving and supporting the quality of medical care for our patients.

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MSF Academy targets MSF clinicians and medical leaders by applying up-to-date adult learning practices, work-based learning including at the patient’s bedside, and competency-based curriculums. The program is strongly supported by professional mentors or tutors. All 5 MSF Academy program streams aim to serve the medical program needs of all MSF Operational Directorates.

MSF Academy’s largest program stream focuses on hospital nursing staff in countries with a critical shortage of qualified nurses. We’ve created a comprehensive curriculum accompanied with a myriad of tools for field implementation (tablets, games, quizzes, etc.) and we’re training MSF hospital nursing staff in Sierra Leone, Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, and soon the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). All MSF hospitals in these countries can benefit from this program and to date 17 sites have effectively started or are being planned, notably in South Sudan and CAR. Central to nursing learning is clinical mentorship; 70% of the learning consists of turning theoretical knowledge found in textbooks into real clinical competencies demonstrated in hospital wards. Our roster of mentors, tutors and learning companions is growing every week, and a lot of effort goes into training and supporting these supervisors. In CAR, we have selected Learning Companions to serve as peer learners for small groups of colleagues. This creates a powerful learning environment in MSF’s hospital wards. In South Sudan, we are combining the forces of international mentors and South Sudanese tutors to deliver the learning and bedside teaching. In each country, we aim to achieve an official accreditation for participants that complete the curriculum. Strong links with the authorities in the field of nursing training will also start to open avenues to explore the potential for a more structural school or adult learning project in either South Sudan or CAR.

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A second program priority is nurse anesthetists. In many African countries, the lack of qualified anesthesia staff is one of the main obstacles to providing surgical care. For this reason, MSF Academy created 2 scholarship programs for nurses to become nurse anesthetists – one offered in English in Ghana and the other offered in French in Ivory Coast. These are diploma courses (18-24 months) offered in the best schools of West Africa. In total, 36 nurses have started (16 in Ghana and 20 in Ivory Coast). These nurses hail from Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Yemen, Central African Republic, and Chad and work for MSF projects implemented by all MSF Operational Directorates. The programs are running extremely well. Studying is hard work, but it is remarkable to see the strong motivation of all participants to earn their diplomas, graduate, and return home as a professional anesthetist nurse.

For our newest MSF Academy program stream, the team is developing a curriculum to train nurses that work in Out-Patient Departments (OPD). The aim is to improve the quality of patient consultations by strengthening the clinical reasoning of OPD consultation staff. This training will be used in combination with e-Care tools for better quality of clinical diagnosis and consultations for MSF patients.

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    MSF Academy is also developing two academic courses for senior MSF medical staff:
    • First, we are developing a Post Graduate Diploma course in Infectious Diseases. This will be a 24-month course that will prepare medical doctors with the right skills to manage infectious diseases in MSF projects. Diagnosis, treatment, antibiotic stewardship, management of complex surgical infections, HIV and TB are all included in the curriculum. Learning will focus on commonly encountered MSF field needs and conditions. This program is being developed in collaboration with the Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa.

    • The second academic course aims to better prepare our medical coordinators and other medical leaders or managers. It is a professional course at a master’s degree level that focuses on the key competencies of a MSF medical coordinator. The 36-month program is being developed in collaboration with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

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Both academic courses will be organized as distance learning while the participants continue to work for MSF in our project settings. Daily professional exposure, either in clinical care or as medical managers, will be organized as learning opportunities with the close support of tutors. These tutors will have extensive MSF experience and be trained as professional academic tutors.

The MSF Academy for Healthcare is becoming a well-recognized actor in medical learning in the MSF movement and is helping to transform MSF’s culture into that of a learning organization, especially in clinical care and public health. Investing in local staff nurses and anesthetist nurses will have lasting effects on the quality of care in a country like CAR beyond the timeline of an MSF project. Training MSF infectious diseases graduates will strengthen frontline clinical care for our patients.