CUGH Member Faculty Profile: Dominic Allain, University of Alberta

Dominic Allain

Emergency Medicine, Director

University of Alberta

Dr. Dominic Allain’s partnership with global health began at a very early age.  He was enthusiast about indigenous cultures, social justice, and human rights while in junior high and in high school, and during his undergraduate studies, volunteered in Central America (mainly Guatemala, initially).

Says Dr. Allain, his undergraduate education and his fieldwork in Central America offered him the chance to learn to speak Spanish. His “passion for global health was confirmed” after a few volunteer experiences as a medical student in Central America, Cuba, and West Africa, and has continued growing since.

Dr. Allain’s international experience is vast and rich: Peer health education in rural Gambia; rural indigenous health in Guatemala; pediatric medicine and teaching in Ghana; research training and teaching in Uganda; disaster relief work during a malnutrition crisis in rural Haiti; rural health in Cuba, indigenous health in the Amazon in Ecuador; and pediatric emergency medicine work in Oaxaca, Mexico.

While all his experiences have been memorable, he says his participation in relief efforts after Haiti’s earthquake in January 2010 is among his most rewarding.  Given the magnitude of the disaster, the immense loss of life, thousands injured, the huge impact on the country and on the mental health of its population, his participation with the disaster relief effort was challenging but also an outstanding international experience.   “In this situation of crisis,” he says, “teamwork and the dedication of the volunteers made this experience quite memorable.”

Dr. Allain’s interests in global health include: Medical education in developing countries; elective experiences for medical students and residents; pediatric and neonatal resuscitation skills in developing countries; pediatric injury prevention; pediatric trauma; indigenous health; disaster management; and relief work.  Dr.  Allain is moved to helping educate others (especially learners) about global health issues and share with them some of the lessons and “pearls” that he learned over the past several years:

On Global Health Education training should include the teaching of human rights, socioeconomic and healthcare inequities around the world and their relationships to medicine, healthcare delivery, and disparities in health outcomes. Physicians and healthcare workers (including medical students and residents), should leave their “comfort zones” of developed countries’ clinics and hospitals where much is available in terms of services and technology, and experience on a volunteer basis and the many challenges that communities and healthcare workers in developing countries must face and adapt to on a daily basis.

On Globalization and CooperationThe world is a different place in 2012.  Increasing travel, immigration, and communication systems bring us closer and make us more aware of health problems of people from different countries.  Despite major efforts by so many, infectious diseases are still fundamental causes of morbidity and mortality in developing countries.  The developed world should commit and work for the improvement of these complex issues. 

On Global Health as a Multidisciplinary Area of Study– One of the most important challenges that the global health movement faces is in the lens we use to view health issues. Global health does not refer only to medical work in developing countries. Global health incorporates issues such as poverty, human rights and social justice, at home and abroad. It looks at health problems from beyond a medical perspective. To tackle these health problems in developing countries, students, faculty, programs and universities must understand these complexities and how they affect us. Understanding that health problems need to be seen from multiple perspectives will help our learners become better physicians and instill an open mind and willingness to help those with the greatest needs – wherever they decide to practice.     

On Changing Medical Curricula – In medical schools and residency programs, space and time is limited in most curricula already. Therefore it can be a challenge to add new ideas and new sessions into a pre-existing curriculum. It can also be a challenge to have new overseas electives recognized by certain programs, and this highlights the importance of having well-thought out objectives and goals for the rotation in advance, and solid logistics in place before the learner arrives.

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