A Spotlight on the International Federation of Medical Students Associations

Tell us about IFMSA AND YOUR CONNECTION TO SELF-CARE.

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The International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) is one of the oldest and biggest student-led organizations in the world and unites 1.3 million medical students from 130 countries. The IFMSA works in Public Health, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), Human Rights and Peace, Medical Education and Students’ Exchanges and champions advocacy on health equity and meaningful youth engagement. We started collaborating with the SCTG in 2019, each year strengthening awareness of the importance of self-care. The SCTG supported us in capacity-building campaigns for medical students worldwide, succored in our policy document development on self-care in reproductive health, while the IFMSA participated in the SCTG’s initiatives such as the Annual Summit and regularly shares the SCTG’s resources with members.

In the past, we perceived self-care from a narrow perspective of healthy lifestyles, while the concept is much more comprehensive. It encompasses health literacy, management of health and diseases, prevention, and self-monitoring, among others. Simply – it goes beyond our initial understanding of the concept. 

We also acknowledge how important it is for SRHR services as it reduces the associated stigma, increases confidentiality, gives the individual agency over their body and decreases costs of the services and products and the necessity and frequency to travel to health facilities. Therefore, it is also a tool to achieve more equitable healthcare in the field of SRHR. 

How does ifsma integrate self-care into its programs? 

For a long time, self-care was not implemented in IFMSA activities, or at least, not directly, as most IFMSA activities are based on health education which is an important component of self-care itself. Due to its significance to SRHR and the partnership with the SCTG, our Standing Committee on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, including HIV and AIDS, initiated the inclusion of self-care as part of our advocacy. Centering developing competencies of our members, we conducted sessions in meetings around the world with the aim to inspire medical students to include self-care in their national and local projects. This year, we also outlined the topic in IFMSA social media international campaigns such as the one on adolescent health, showcasing how self-care can help to overcome barriers in accessing health that young people face and improve their health outcomes.

As IFMSA, we also recognize self-care as a crucial step to achieve health equity during the lurking climate crisis as it was expressed in our interventions during the 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. As an organization working on a multitude of health-related issues, we emphasize the necessity of seeing these as intersecting aspects and embrace self-care as a solution to growing health needs in different social, political and economic contexts.

What are the main challenges for medical students and youth advocates interested in advancing self-care globally?

As a Federation, as much as we value self-care, we recognize many medical students are not able to discover it. This is due to the inadequate recognition of self-care by medical education systems as a strategy for patient-healthcare provider interaction. Insufficient knowledge on the topic poses a big barrier in the implementation of projects focusing on self-care on all levels of our work but we are slowly paving the way. Amplified action by our Federation brings medical students closer to the advocacy on this matter providing the movement with a fresh and unique perspective of youth activists and health advocates worldwide.

How are medical students and youth advocates uniquely positioned to support self-care in the public and private sectors?

We have been growing up in different times than our parents and grandparents – in a world that is digital, where access to information is easier, where understanding oneself, one’s body and each other is strived for. Therefore, medical students approach health through different lenses and this applies to self-care – connecting it with digital health, with different areas of public health and based on the principles of human rights. Additionally, with the motivation of young people and in many cases, our national member organizations being the biggest medical students organization with immense credibility, we are able to influence various stakeholders and spread self-care awareness across the sectors.

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