Thinking Like an Emergency Physician (2023)

Emergency Medicine is the most interesting 15 minutes of every other specialty.

Everyone in medicine knows that Emergency Medicine is different, even if they can’t put the reason into words.  We know why.  We work in an environment that is different, in hours that are different, and with patients who are different more than any other medical specialty.  Our motto is “Anyone, anything, anytime.”  No other specialty of medicine makes that claim.

While other doctors dwell on “What does this patient have? – that is, “What’s the diagnosis?” – emergency physicians are instead thinking “What does this patient need right now?  In 5 minutes?  In two hours?”  

The concept of seeing undifferentiated patients with symptoms, not diagnoses, is alien to many of our medical colleagues. Yet we do it on a daily basis, many times during a shift.  The idea of juggling decisions for several sick people simultaneously is beyond the capabilities of almost everyone else in medicine.  They are used to working with one patient at a time in a linear fashion.

I retired a few years ago after more than 45 years in Emergency Medicine, dating back to my time as an Army medic in Vietnam.  Every time I introduced myself to a patient, I never knew in advance which direction things were going to head.  I never knew whether I could help the patient in 30 seconds or 30 minutes, if at all.  I felt like I should have given this disclaimer.

Hello stranger, I am Doctor Joe Lex.  I will spend as much time with you as it takes to determine whether you are trying to die on me, and whether I should admit you to the hospital so you can try to die on one of my colleagues.  

You and I have never met before today.  You must trust me with your life and secrets, and I must trust that the answers you give me are honest.  

After today, we may never see one another again.  It may turn out to be one of the worst days of your life.  For me, it is another workday.  I may forget you minutes after you leave the department, but you will probably remember me for many days or months, possibly even for the rest of your life.  I will ask you many, many questions.  I will do the best I can to ask the right questions in the right order so that I come to a correct decision.  I want you to tell me your story, and for me to understand that story, I may have to interrupt you to clarify your answers.

Each question I ask you is a conscious decision on my part.  In an average 8-hour shift I will make about 10,000 conscious and subconscious decisions – who should I see next, what question should I ask next, how much physical examination should I perform, is that really a murmur that I am hearing, what lab study should I order, what imaging study should I look at now, and is that really an infiltrate, which consultant will give me the least pushback about caring for you, is your nurse one whom I can trust with the mission of getting your pain under control, and will I remember to give you that work note when it is time for you to go home?  And so on…  So even if I screw up just 0.1% of these decisions, I will make about ten mistakes today.

I hope for both of our sakes you have a plain, obvious emergency with a high signal-to-noise ratio.  Gonorrhea, a dislocated kneecap, chest pain with an obvious STEMI pattern on EKG, shingles, a dental abscess, an eye foreign body … I can recognize and treat those things without even thinking.  If, on the other hand, your problem has a lot of background noise and vague signs and symptoms, I am more likely to be led down the wrong path and come to the wrong conclusion.  

I am glad to report that the human body is very resilient.  We as humans have evolved over millennia to survive, so even if I screw up, the odds are very, very good that you will be fine.  Voltaire told us back in the 18th century that “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”  For the most part, this has not changed.  And Lewis Thomas wrote: “The great secret of doctors, learned by internists and learned early in marriage by internists’ wives, but still hidden from the public, is that most things get better by themselves.  Most things, in fact, are better by morning.” On the other hand, the path to dying is rather direct – failure of respirations, failure of the heart, failure of the brain, or failure of metabolism.

Remember, you don’t come to me with a diagnosis: you come to me with symptoms.  You may have any one of more than 10,000 diseases or conditions that we know about, and – truth be told – the odds of me getting the absolute correct diagnosis are small.  You may have an uncommon presentation of a common disease or a common presentation of an uncommon disease.  If you are early in your disease process, I may even miss such life-threatening conditions as heart attack or sepsis.  If you neglect to truthfully tell me your sexual history or your use of drugs and alcohol, I may not follow through with appropriate questions and might come to a totally incorrect conclusion about what you need or what you have.

You may be disappointed when you feel that you are not being seen by a “specialist.”  Many people believe that when they have their heart attack, they should be cared for by a cardiologist.  They think that the symptom of “chest pain” is their ticket to the heart specialist.  But what if the heart attack is not chest pain, but nausea and breathlessness?  And what if the chest pain is aortic dissection?  Or a pneumothorax?  Or a ruptured esophagus?  So, you are being treated by a specialist – one who can discern the life-threatening from the trivial, and the medical from the surgical.  We are the specialty trained to think like this.

We started our training in a state of unconscious incompetence – we were so poor at what we did that we did not even know how bad we were.  We were lucky if we could care for four patients in an 8-hour shift.  But we quickly learned and reached a level of conscious incompetence and multi-tasking – we knew that we were inadequate, but we felt ourselves getting better at our job on a day-to-day basis.  By the time we finished our training we had reached the next level: conscious competence.  We could deal with almost anything, but we still had to think hard about much of our decision making.  After a few more years of practice, we reached our pinnacle of unconscious competence

If you insist on asking “What do I have, Doctor Lex?” you may be disappointed when I tell you “I don’t know what you have, but I do know it is safe for you to go home.”  Sometimes I can do this without doing a single test.  I do know that if I give you a made-up diagnosis like “gastritis” or “walking pneumonia,” you will think the problem is solved.  Worse yet, other doctors will anchor on my false diagnosis, and you may never get the right answers.

Here’s some good news: we are probably both thinking of the worst-case scenario. You get a sudden headache and wonder “Do I have a brain tumor?”  You get some belly pain and worry “Is this cancer?”  The good news is that I am thinking exactly the same thing.  And if you do not hear me say the word “stroke” or “cancer,” then you will think I am an idiot for not reading your mind to determine that is what you are worried about.  I understand that no matter how trivial your complaint, you have a fear that something bad is happening.

While we are talking, I may be interrupted once or twice.  See, I get interrupted several times every hour – answering calls from consultants, responding to the prehospital personnel, clarifying orders for nurses and technicians.  Or I may get suddenly called away to care for someone far sicker than you.  I will try very hard to not let these interruptions derail me from doing what is best for you today.

I will use my knowledge and experience to reach the right decisions for you.  I know that I am biased, but knowledge of bias is not enough to change it.  I know the pathophysiology of pulmonary embolism in excruciating detail, but the literature suggests I may still miss this condition at least half the time it occurs.

And here’s the interesting thing: I will probably make these errors whether I just quickly determine what I think you have by pattern recognition or use analytical reason.  Emergency physicians are notorious for thinking quickly and making early decisions based on minimal information (Type 1 thinking).  Cognitive psychologists tell us that we can cut down on errors by using analytical reasoning (Type 2 thinking).  It turns out that both produce about the same amount of error, and the key is probably to learn both types of reasoning simultaneously.

After I see you, I will go to a computer and probably spend as much time generating your chart as I did while seeing you.  This is to document what I have found and how I have worked up your complaint, so the hospital and I can get paid.  The more carefully I document what you say and what I did, then the more money I can collect from your insurance carrier.  But that chart may be useless in helping other health care providers understand what happened today unless I deviate from the clicks and actually write what we talked about and explained my thought process.  In my eight-hour shift today I will click about 4000 times.

What’s that?  You say you don’t have insurance?  Well, that’s okay too.  The U.S. government and many other governments in the world have mandated that I have to see you anyway without asking you how you will pay.  No, they haven’t guaranteed me any money for doing this – in fact, I can be fined a hefty amount if I don’t do it.  A 2003 article estimated I give away more than $138,000 per year worth of free care because of this law.

But if you are having an emergency, you have come to the right place.  If you need a life-saving procedure such as endotracheal intubation or decompression needle thoracotomy, I’ll do it.  If you need emergency delivery of your baby or rapid control of your hemorrhage, I can do that too.  I can do your spinal tap, I can sew your laceration, I can reduce your shoulder dislocation, and I can insert your Foley catheter. I can float your temporary pacemaker, I can get that pesky foreign body out of your eye or ear or rectum, I can stop your seizure or your nosebleed, and I can talk you through your bad trip.

Emergency medicine really annoys a lot of the other specialists.  I think that it is primarily because we are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  And we really expect our consultants to be there when we need them.  Yes, we are fully prepared to annoy a consultant if that is what you need.

I saw thousands of patients, each unique, in my near-50 years of experience.  But every time I thought about writing a book telling of my wondrous career, I quickly stopped short and told myself “You will just be adding more blather to what is already out there – what you have learned cannot easily be taught and will not be easily learned by others.  What you see as wisdom, others will see as platitudes.”

As author Norman Douglas once wrote: “What is all wisdom save a collection of platitudes.  Take fifty of our current proverbial sayings– they are so trite, so threadbare.  None the less they embody the concentrated experience of the race, and the man who orders his life according to their teachings cannot be far wrong.  Has any man ever attained to inner harmony by pondering the experience of others?  Not since the world began!  He must pass through fire.”

Have you ever heard of John Coltrane?  He was an astonishing musician who became one of the premiere creators of the 20th century.  He started as an imitator of older musicians but quickly changed into his own man.  He listened to and borrowed from Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, African music and Indian music, Christianity and Hinduism and Buddhism.  And from these seemingly unrelated parts he created something unique, something no one had ever heard before.  Coltrane not only changed music, but he changed people’s expectations of what music could be.  In the same way, emergency medicine has taken ideas from surgery and pediatrics, critical care and obstetrics, endocrinology and psychiatry, and orthopedics, and we have created something unique.  And in doing so, we altered the world’s expectations of what medicine should be.

Now, how can I help you today?




Joe Lex was involved in Emergency Medicine for more than 49 years – as a Vietnam combat medic, ER Tech, Certified Emergency Nurse, and Emergency Physician. For five years he was Education Chair for the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, which renamed their Educator of the Year Award the “Joe Lex Award.” After 14 years in the community, he joined the Emergency Medicine faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is a “godfather” of free electronic open-access medical education and his website ( taught thousands of people worldwide.

Since he retired in 2016 as a Professor of Emergency Medicine, he does a weekly radio show called “Dr. Joe’s Groove,” featuring 60-year-old news and jazz. He writes an occasional blog called “Notes from Nam” based on 170 letters he wrote home in 1968 and 1969. He is also an amateur cemetery historian and volunteer tour guide for Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia and West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, in addition to researching and producing their monthly podcasts “All Bones Considered: Laurel Hill Stories” and “Biographical Bytes from Bala: West Laurel Hill Stories.”

Joe and his wife Andrea celebrate 50 years together in June. His publicity picture is quite old – add 15 years and 40 pounds.

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Cite this article as: iEM Education Project Team, "Thinking Like an Emergency Physician (2023)," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, March 20, 2023,, date accessed: March 26, 2023

Emergency Medicine Clerkship, 100 MCQs (2023) – A free book is ready

We are pleased to introduce our very first multiple choice question (MCQ) book at the International Emergency Medicine Education Project. Our goal is to provide medical students with useful resources to aid in their clinical decision-making, critical thinking, and clinical reasoning skills related to emergency medicine.

The book features MCQs and explanations for common medical problems encountered in emergency medicine. Our hope is that this book will be an informative and valuable learning tool for our students.

We are grateful for the opportunity to offer this resource and look forward to receiving feedback from our students and educators as we continue to improve and develop our educational offerings in emergency medicine.


Joseph Ciano, Do, MPH, MS

Joseph Ciano, Do, MPH, MS

Dr Ciano is an Emergency Medicine Physician from New York, USA. He completed his Emergency Medicine Residency in Brooklyn, NY and a Fellowship in Global Emergency Medicine in the Northwell-LIJ Health System. He is interested in building the educational infrastructure of EM in countries where Emergency Medicine is not yet recognized as a field and in countries that are in the early stages of this process. He has partnered with international NGOs in Emergency Medicine educational projects and works as a visiting Emergency Medicine faculty member in West Bengal, India. He is excited to collaborate with the other authors of the iEM Education Project to contribute to the world of FOAM-ed.


Arif Alper Cevik, MD, FEMAT, FIFEM

Arif Alper Cevik, MD, FEMAT, FIFEM

Prof Cevik is an Emergency Medicine academician at United Arab Emirates University, interested in international emergency medicine, emergency medicine education, medical education, point of care ultrasound and trauma. He is the founder and director of the International Emergency Medicine Education Project –, vice-chair of the International Federation for Emergency Medicine (IFEM) core curriculum and education committee and board member of the Asian Society for Emergency Medicine and Emirati Board of Emergency Medicine.

Project Proposal 12/20: Developing a Community Education Program to Combat Envenomation in India

Problem Statement

The WHO classified snakebite envenomations as an NTD in 2017 for causing enormous suffering, disability, and premature death worldwide. Bites by venomous snakes can cause paralysis, fatal hemorrhages, irreversible kidney failure, tissue damage and more, leading to permanent disability and limb amputation. Over half the world’s envenomation events and deaths occur in India; this epidemic has been termed “the neglected famer’s tragedy” due to a disproportionate increase in agricultural areas, and a “therapeutic black hole” due to ineffective or unavailable interventions within the region. With 5.8 billion people at risk of encounters, and 2.7 million reported cases of envenomings, it is estimated that there are between 81,000 to 138,000 deaths and countless more debilitating injuries each year in the country. 

The WHO developed the Snakebite Envenoming Strategic Plan which calls for a 50% reduction in mortality and disability caused by snakebite envenoming by 2030 through 4 goals: 

  1. Empower and engage communities.
  2. Ensure safe, effective treatment.
  3. Strengthen systems.
  4. Increase partnerships, coordination, and resources through strong collaboration.

Project Proposal

Our project focuses on the first WHO goal; Empower and engage communities.  However, it includes aspects of all the 2030 goals by creating an education system that will help prevent envenomations and arm the community with a safe plan to approach such events to reduce morbidity and mortality. The project will focus on educating and engaging community leaders, to promote sustainability and community engagement.  These community leaders will be trained to teach and discuss topics including characteristics of venomous and non-venomous snakes, dispelling, and discussing common misconceptions surrounding proper envenomation management, first-aid, initial management, and stabilization.  Community leaders and community members will also be connected with national partners like the National Snake Bite initiative (NSI) as well as international partners like WHO through The Platform, an interactive Application that allows the public to participate in reporting events and venomous snake sightings, slowly creating a regionalized database. 

Qualitative surveys before and after educational campaigns on community knowledge, perceptions, sociocultural and spiritual understanding and depiction of snakes and snakebite envenoming can help to measure how receptive communities have been to the program. Since envenomation events are underreported, it is difficult to assess any qualitative differences (hospital admission events), however, since we plan to implement this program on a community-by-community basis it may be possible to investigate numbers through local health ministries, clinics, and hospitals to assess different trends before and after program implementation.

Based on the WHO Snakebite Working group budget we estimate this project would not cost more than $15,000 USD, with much of the funds allocated to program creation, program coordinators and educators, community leaders, and program creation.  The WHO allocated over $140 million USD over 10 years worldwide to this problem and $650,000 USD to community education in 10 countries.  Using this logic, we estimated that more than $65,000 would be allocated to a country like India.  If this project were to pilot its educational campaign in a specific region, we estimate no needing more than $15,000 USD. 

By partnering with national partners on the ground like the NSI and community leaders who will continue to train and educate, this program will become sustainable through working with those that are inherently invested in more positive outcomes through education in their own communities. Additionally, the WHO’s Platform application will be promoted during educational programming to further engage and empower the community to take an active role in their own education and safety by sharing photos of potentially venomous snake sightings along with their location data. By promoting effective interventions involving education surrounding proper venomous snake identification, snake education, medical interventions, and effective reporting this program will reduce snake bite deaths and long-term disability and empower at risk communities in India to take their safety into their own hands.  


After presenting the proposal to the group, we engaged in discussion on this proposal. One of the questions that sparked deep and insightful conversation was “Why is the focus of this project education, and not ensuring that are adequate and strategically placed life saving anti-venom available?”

Below is a summary of the most pertinent ideas posed:

1. Many companies producing have stopped/gone out of business and even if there was plentiful supply it would still not help with preventing or addressing the problem when most cases of snakebite envenomation that occur are not reported.

2. With an educational campaign the people are able to take power into their own hands.

3. The cost benefit ratio of this method is extremely low. Many people reside far away from any form of health care and in India, the cost of initial treatment has been reported to be as high as USD$ 5,150, which makes investments in anti-venom unsustainable. 







  6. Kasturiratne A, Wickremasinghe AR, de Silva N, et al. The global burden of snakebite: a literature analysis and modelling based on regional estimates of envenoming and deaths. PLoS Med. 2008;5(11):e218. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050218

  7. Yanamandra U, Yanamandra S. Traditional first aid in a case of snake bite: more harm than good. BMJ Case Rep. 2014;2014:bcr2013202891. Published 2014 Feb 13. doi:10.1136/bcr-2013-202891

  8. Chauhan V, Thakur S. The North-South divide in snake bite envenomation in India. J Emerg Trauma Shock. 2016;9(4):151-154. doi:10.4103/0974-2700.193350

  9. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, vol. 9, no. 1, 12 Mar. 2015, 10.1186/s13033-015-0007-9. Accessed 13 June 2020.

About GEMS LP project proposals

These project proposals are completed by our mentees, who are medical students, to encourage independent thinking from a global perspective.

Thank you to our authors and presenters!

Nikkole Turgeon, MS4

University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine

Racheal Kantor, MS4

Racheal Kantor, MS4

Medical School of International Health, Ben-Gurion University

Nicholas Imperato, MS4

Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

Blog Editorial Team

Halley Alberts, MD

Halley Alberts, MD

PGY-2 University of South Carolina Prisma Health Midlands
Co-Director & Blog Editor

Jeff Downen, MD, MS

Jeff Downen, MD, MS

PGY-2 University of Florida, Jacksonville
Blog Editor

Mohamed Hussein, MBBCh

Mohamed Hussein, MBBCh

Trauma Research Fellow
Blog Editor

Keep in Touch:

Cite this article as: Global EM Student Leadership Program, "Project Proposal 12/20: Developing a Community Education Program to Combat Envenomation in India," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, March 9, 2023,, date accessed: March 26, 2023

Project Proposal 12/20: Establishing an Objective Risk Assessment for Road Traffic Accidents in Ghana


Worldwide, road traffic accidents (RTAs) account for about 1.3 million fatalities and, on average, 3% of a given country’s GDP. Over half of these deaths occur among vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and motor cyclists. Approximately 93% of all of the world’s RTA-associated mortalities occur in middle- to low-income countries, even though they have only 60% of the world’s vehicles. Road traffic injuries cause considerable economic losses to individuals, their families, and to countries as a whole that take a considerable toll even years or decades after the incident occurred. These losses arise from the cost of treatment as well as lost productivity for those killed or disabled by their injuries, and for family members who need to take time off work or school to care for the injured.

 The country of Ghana experiences, on average, 2,000 RTA-associated deaths and 14,000 RTA associated injuries annually. At the Korle-Bu teaching hospital in Accra, Ghana, the largest health facility and teaching hospital in Ghana and the main referral site for all of southern Ghana, between 2016 and 2017, 62% of deaths in the hospital’s accident center were related to RTAs. These RTA-associated deaths and injuries cost the country around 1.6% of its GDP, which amounts to over $1.3 million per year.

In the early 2000s, the Ghanaian government began to recognize the serious socio-economic impact of RTAs on its country. To address the issue, the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) was established to collect data on RTAs and propose solutions and policies in response. Various data was collected, such as the number of annual deaths and injuries and road user classes associated with these fatalities. Data collected demonstrated that, in Ghana, the road user class with the highest share of fatalities was consistently  pedestrians (824; 39.5%) followed by motorcycle users (437; 21%) and bus occupants (364; 17.5%). Considering RTAs in the context of emergency care, studies showed that, again at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, almost 40% of emergency care visits were from RTAs, followed distantly by falls and interpersonal violence. Of the victims that died upon or after arrival to the hospital, 50% were pedestrians, 31% were passengers, and 18.7% were motorists.

From the numbers provided, it’s readily apparent that deaths caused by injuries, and, specifically, RTA-associated injuries, rank among the top ten causes of death in Ghana. It was concluded that underlying drivers of this issue were broadly two-fold: there was a high proportion of RTA-associated injuries due to poor road conditions and unregulated driving practices, and emergency care providers were lacking in proper, formal trauma-based care, both prehospital and when they arrived to an emergency care facility.

To address these shortcomings, various sizable mitigation measures were adopted by Ghana’s government in an attempt to decrease the number of RTAs and their associated costs. In 2004, Ghana established a National Ambulance Service (NAS), providing over 200 ambulances staffed with formally trained, BLS-certified EMTs for pre-hospital care. Ghana’s first EM residency program was established in 2009, followed one year later by its first 2-year Emergency Nursing degree program. More recently, in 2019, the NRSC passed the National Road Safety Authority Acts that were designed to promote and mandate best road safety practices, both in road users and road developers. However, despite these resolutions, RTAs and their associated injuries and deaths continue to remain consistently high in the country.

A literature review of available research on Ghanian RTAs revealed several limitations in the studies. While the NRSC has been instrumental in collecting RTA data and devising protocols to mitigate RTAs, there is still a lack of detailed, objective research on RTAs in Ghana. Additionally, there are significant inconsistencies in the source of the data and whether it is a registry-based report or a population-based study. The causes of accidents are not well-documented, and there is limited data available detailing where the majority of RTAs occur aside from the regions most heavily affected. According to data from 2016, over 75% of RTAs occur in 5 regions (Ashanti, Greater Accra, Eastern, Central and Brong Ahafo), of which four of the five regions correspond to the four most populous regions (with the exception of Ahafo, which is the least populated). Interestingly enough, however, about 60% of RTA fatalities were in non-urban sections of the road networks. Despite this information, we were unable to find details regarding where the specific accidents occur within each region.

Research collected by the University of Ghana’s School of Public Health identified the following risk factors that were highly associated with RTAs: stop-light violations, improper signaling, speeding. However, we believe that the study used to determine these risk factors relied too heavily on subjective analysis, leading to potentially erroneous and biased data. Therefore, we propose utilizing traffic cameras for gathering objective data in areas with a high burden of RTAs. This analysis will allow local authorities to identify risk factors that lead to RTAs, resulting in the utilization of emergency medicine services.

In short, an objective method of identifying common risks, causes, and associations of RTAs is crucial in order to decrease morbidity and mortality as well as the need for emergency care. This is especially important, as Ghana spends over $130 million USD each year on RTA-related injuries alone.

Project Proposal

We believe one way to do this is to utilize traffic cameras that are already in place in these high traffic areas to analyze accidents. As the infrastructure is already in place for surveillance – all we need to do is collect and analyze the footage, which has limited costs associated with it. We would need to pay salary to 1-2 data analysts in order to analyze the information. If more cameras were needed, this would cost anywhere from $65-80,000 USD per camera installation. After installation and retrieval of the camera data, what information will we collect? First, we would like to identify what specific intersections and roadways are involved in RTAs. We also would collect temporal statistics such as day of the week, month and time of day as well as weather conditions. The type and number of vehicles involved in the accident as well as identifying whether the drivers are local versus nonlocal are also important characteristics. Lastly, we would look at whether drivers violated traffic laws such as running a redlight or were speeding as well as being in the incorrect driving lane.

The data collected from this proposal can be used to promote infrastructure changes to lessen the risk of future RTAs. In particular, the installation of crosswalks have been proven to mitigate incidences of motor accidents. According to a 2017 study, 68% of pedestrian fatalities from RTAs in Ghana are related to “pedestrian crossing behaviors.” However, the study was limited in its ability to deduce further information from these incidents, such as the causality of the accident. The review of the stop light camera footage from the event would allow the local government to determine if more facilities such as crosswalks may be beneficial to install in populated intersections.


The high prevalence of RTAs in Ghana is a public health concern that dramatically burdens the emergency medical community. We believe that the data collected from traffic cameras can be used to more concretely understand the risk factors that lead to motor accidents in Ghana. Ultimately, this information can be used to improve infrastructure features to mitigate risk of future accidents.


  2. Blankson PK, Lartey M. Road traffic accidents in Ghana: contributing factors and economic consequences. Ghana Med J. 2020 Sep;54(3):131. doi: 10.4314/gmj.v54i3.1. PMID: 33883755; PMCID: PMC8042801.
  3. Blankson PK, Nonvignon J, Aryeetey G, Aikins M. Injuries and their related household costs in a tertiary hospital in Ghana. Afr J Emerg Med. 2020;10(Suppl 1):S44-S49. doi: 10.1016/j.afjem.2020.04.004. Epub 2020 May 26. PMID: 33318901; PMCID: PMC7723915.
  4. Zakariah A, Stewart BT, Boateng E, Achena C, Tansley G, Mock C. The Birth and Growth of the National Ambulance Service in Ghana. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2017 Feb;32(1):83-93. doi: 10.1017/S1049023X16001151. Epub 2016 Dec 12. PMID: 27938469; PMCID: PMC5558015.

About GEMSLP project proposals

These project proposals are completed by our mentees, who are medical students, to encourage independent thinking from a global perspective.

Thank you to our authors and presenters!

Holly Farkosh, MS4

Holly Farkosh, MS4

Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine

Andrew McAward, MS2

Andrew McAward, MS2

Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine

Tram Lee, MS3

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Blog Editorial Team

Halley Alberts, MD

Halley Alberts, MD

PGY-2 University of South Carolina Prisma Health Midlands
GEMS LP Co-Director & Blog Editor

Jeff Downen, MD, MS

Jeff Downen, MD, MS

PGY-2 University of Florida, Jacksonville
Blog Editor

Mohamed Hussein, MBBCh

Mohamed Hussein, MBBCh

Trauma Research Fellow
Blog Editor

Keep in Touch:

Cite this article as: Global EM Student Leadership Program, "Project Proposal 12/20: Establishing an Objective Risk Assessment for Road Traffic Accidents in Ghana," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, March 1, 2023,, date accessed: March 26, 2023

Project Proposal 12/20 :Creating Culturally Appropriate Mental Health Care Programs After Disasters

Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability worldwide, accounting for an estimated 175.3 million years lost to disability (Figure 1). Inequalities in access to or quality of mental health care globally are directly related to social, structural, and economic determinants. Increasingly, research suggests that these socioeconomic inequalities lead to health issues not just for disadvantaged populations but for all those involved in unjust or unequal societies. In addition, most of our information on global access to mental health care is limited to formal psychiatric care, which discounts other forms of local or indigenous healing practices.

Disasters have countless impacts on communities and can cause stress due to feelings of powerlessness, loss of community life and culture, and destruction and physical displacement. An estimated 1 in 3 highly exposed trauma survivors may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 1 in 4 may experience major depression. Psychological distress, which does not meet the criteria for another formal psychiatric diagnosis, is nearly universal after exposure to a disaster and deserves significant attention as well.

It is also crucial to ensure that mental health responses after disasters are conscious of unique local contexts. Previously, priorities in disaster responses have primarily been defined by mental health professionals mostly by nations of the Global North, which gives insufficient attention to locally-defined priorities. These established programs focus mainly on major neuropsychiatric disorders as defined by Western professionals and assume that the features, courses, and outcomes will mirror those seen in the cultures where they were initially developed. Existing programs and literature also tend to focus on PTSD, with other forms and manifestations of psychological distress falling through the cracks. This focus on applying formal diagnosis and treatment assumes that they are generalizable across cultures and may marginalize indigenous forms of healing that could be vital to the community.

Key Priorities

With these concerns in mind, we want to highlight some key priorities in creating a culturally sensitive mental health care program in the post-disaster setting. First, we need to remember that systemic factors such as structural violence and poverty are important determinants of mental health outcomes (Figure 2). Thus it is imperative to first support efforts addressing basic socioeconomic needs and promote physical safety of the population. In addition, mental health programming may be carried out in tandem with medical colleagues addressing other problems to increase coverage and decrease the need for additional infrastructure.  

Figure 2: Proximal and distal factors of the social determinants of mental health with sustainable development goals mapped onto the different domains. 

In assessing the community’s mental health needs, there should be an effort to learn and adapt to the local context, as an individual’s response to suffering is likely influenced by the religious, spiritual, and moral context of the local community. In addition, classification systems used in mental health evaluation (i.e., DSM-5) should be modified to integrate the knowledge of culturally specific idioms of stress, taking into account also differences related to class, gender, age, sexuality, minority/majority position. Lastly, special attention must be given to those with existing psychopathology as these individuals are at risk of having worse outcomes in response to disasters. 

Proposed Solution

Guided by these principles, we proposed examples of programming components that partner with the local community and integrate an understanding of local resources and traditions of healing. 

  1. Work with psychologists, community health workers, and local religious leaders to facilitate memorial services in response to possible losses in the community.
  2. Promote education on when and where to seek service, especially in social settings that communities frequently gather. 
  3. Develop programs that go beyond the toolkit of professionals and mobilize indigenous resources and family-specific social activities to encourage people to also rely on support from immediate social networks. 
  4. Partner with specialists to support task-shifting to local non-specialist providers.
  5. Establish screening protocols for aid workers and staff working in disaster settings as these individuals are also at risk for mental health issues.

We want to have a continuous evaluation of the program in four outcomes areas, each with different indicators:

  • Relevance (indicated by population need and cultural and contextual fit)
  • Effectiveness (indicated by mental health outcome)
  • Quality (indicated by adherence, competence, and attendance)
  • Feasibility (indicated by coverage and cost)

While some of the indicators, such as coverage, helps to define operational characteristics of the program, other factors, such as cultural and contextual need, support the program by engaging with local stakeholders. Information regarding these indicators can be obtained using various methods, including community surveys, national health system records, cohort studies, and observational studies.

Though the world’s mental health burden is experienced heavily in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), often only a tiny portion of the annual operating health budgets in these countries will go toward addressing mental health issues. For example, the Emerald (Emerging mental health systems in LMICs) study, which was a multinational study conducted to assess the infrastructural and policy needs for expanding mental health services in Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda, revealed that in some LMICs, there is less than $0.25 per person per year available for mental health budgeting. In addition to limited resources and finances, mental health programs face other challenges related to sustainability, such as poorly trained staff and a lack of understanding about service delivery processes and quality improvement. High turnover of senior-level policymakers can prevent longitudinal advocacy and agenda-setting, and low community participation can also be a barrier.    

While the exact cost for our program is difficult to predict given system collapse and displacement of populations in the post-disaster setting, here we provide an estimation of a possible budget using the operating budget of the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in 2020 as a starting point. 

  • MSF Operating Budget 2020 = €550,000,000 Euros, with 80% spent on programming spending (€440,000,000)
    • €440,000,000 spent across 10 countries = €44,000,000/country in 2020
    • *Presuming 2% for mental health budget allocation = €880,000 for mental health budget/country/year
  • ~350,000 Mental Health Consultations across 10 countries
    • ~35,000 Mental Health consultations annually per nation engaged 
  • €880,000 / 35,000 consultations = €25/consultation (used for medications, counseling, etc) 

Even assuming just 2% of the operations budget is allocated to mental health programming, it can be estimated that major NGOs may be able to make a more significant fiscal investment in mental health than what public services can currently offer in LMICs. In the emergent setting, the surge of financial resources from these agencies towards affected groups presents new opportunities and motivation for development. Additionally, the destruction or collapse of health systems amidst destabilization may provide opportunities to build more equitable and person-centered care systems. Furthermore, media attention can stir public interest and political willpower to dedicate more resources to mental health treatment systems. 

Historically, international health actors have not prioritized the transition of care from transient emergent systems to nascent local infrastructure. Thus two types of investment are needed to ensure a smooth transition and subsequent strengthening of the local health system. Initially, startup investment from aid organizations is needed to maintain operating budgets amidst transitions. Then continuous funding for long-term service delivery from health departments or public agencies is required to promote infrastructure longevity and tackle some of the previously mentioned system-level challenges impeding sustainability of programming. 


  In summary, our current understanding of and approach to global mental health focus on priorities does not pay sufficient attention to local priorities and marginalizes indigenous healing techniques. Guided by an understanding of the social determinants of mental health, at-risk populations in disaster settings, and the crucial importance of adapting to local contexts, we proposed several priorities in infrastructure support, assessment, and intervention when establishing culturally sensitive mental health care programs. Outcomes of the program will then be evaluated in its relevance, effectiveness, quality, and feasibility and used to modify the program in response to changing needs in the post-disaster setting. While the increase in support from NGOs during times of disaster will likely result in increased resources available for mental health programming, transition, and down-scale of post-disaster services to local health systems will never be sufficient nor sustainable without addressing systems-level problems. 


  1. Bischoff, R.J., Springer, P.R., Taylor, N. (2017). Global Mental Health in Action: Reducing Disparities One Community at a Time. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 43, 276-290. doi: 10.1111/jmft.12202
  2. Kirmayer, L.J., Pedersen, D. Toward a new architecture for global mental health. Transcultural Psychiatry. 2014;51(6):759-776. doi: 10.1177/1363461514557202
  3. North, C.S. Pfefferbaum, B. Mental Health: Response to Community Disasters: A Systematic Review. JAMA. 2013;310(5):507-518. doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.107799 
  4. Jordans, M., & Kohrt, B. (2020). Scaling up mental health care and psychosocial support in low-resource settings: A roadmap to impact. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 29, E189. doi:10.1017/S2045796020001018
  5. Lund C, Brooke-Sumner C, Baingana F, Baron EC, Breuer E, Chandra P, Haushofer J, Herrman H, Jordans M, Kieling C, Medina-Mora ME, Morgan E, Omigbodun O, Tol W, Patel V, Saxena S. Social determinants of mental disorders and the Sustainable Development Goals: a systematic review of reviews. Lancet Psychiatry. 2018 Apr;5(4):357-369. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30060-9. 
  6. Bredström, A. Culture and Context in Mental Health Diagnosing: Scrutinizing the DSM-5 Revision. J Med Humanit 40, 347–363 (2019). 
  7. Raviola G, Eustache E, Oswald C, Belkin GS. Mental health response in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake: a case study for building long-term solutions. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2012;20(1):68-77. doi:10.3109/10673229.2012.652877
  8. Semrau, Maya, et al. “Strengthening Mental Health Systems in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: The Emerald Programme.” BMC Medicine, vol. 13, no. 1, 10 Apr. 2015, 10.1186/s12916-015-0309-4. Accessed 7 May 2019.
  9. Epping-Jordan, JoAnne E, et al. “Beyond the Crisis: Building Back Better Mental Health Care in 10 Emergency-Affected Areas Using a Longer-Term Perspective.” International Journal of Mental Health Systems, vol. 9, no. 1, 12 Mar. 2015, 10.1186/s13033-015-0007-9. Accessed 13 June 2020.

About GEMSLP project proposals

These project proposals are completed by our mentees, who are medical students, to encourage independent thinking from a global perspective.

Thank you to our authors and presenters!

Alison Neely, MS4

Alison Neely, MS4

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Luxi Qiao, MS4

Luxi Qiao, MS4

Washington University School of Medicine

Jacob Reshetar, MS4

University of Minnesota School of Medicine

Blog Editorial Team

Halley Alberts, MD

Halley Alberts, MD

PGY-2 University of South Carolina Prisma Health Midlands
Co-Director & Blog Editor

Jeff Downen, MD, MS

Jeff Downen, MD, MS

PGY-2 University of Florida, Jacksonville
Blog Editor

Mohamed Hussein, MBBCh

Mohamed Hussein, MBBCh

Trauma Research Fellow
Blog Editor

Keep in Touch:

Cite this article as: Global EM Student Leadership Program, "Project Proposal 12/20 :Creating Culturally Appropriate Mental Health Care Programs After Disasters," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, February 22, 2023,, date accessed: March 26, 2023

Two Roads, One Path: Academic vs. Non-Academic EM – Part 1

academic emergency medicine vs non-academic emergency medicine

Are academic and non-academic emergency medicine (EM) really two completely different worlds?

With this post I want to start a short series on this topic, hopefully with a little twist in the approach.

Why even question?

How and why do you question a distinction that is on the one hand very apparent and real, and on the other is very customary and traditional and may be true for all medical specialties?

Part of the answer is that in order to plan a fulfilling life in EM (not everyone believes in a “career”), it is best to understand the entire landscape – not only regionally and nationally, but also globally. To this end, perhaps more innovation, ingenuity and out-of-the-box thinking is needed to benefit future EM trainees than what habitual teachings on the subject offer.

Are we really committed for life to whatever we pick out of residency?  Is the decision regarding a fellowship for a senior registrar a now-or-never decision? Is there such an age as “too late” for academics and vice versa? Is the connection between academic and non-academic EM a one-way street? Is it true that once in EM you cannot do anything else because “you don’t know how to do anything else”, according to some?

Today we will begin by looking at a few labels and presuppositions that may be cemented in the collective EM subconscious. It is my intuitive suspicion that only by uncorking, uncovering or by altogether removing some of these, will we be able to get to the real deal underneath.

As they say, the devil is in the details.

Discussion One:  Smoke and Mirrors

Where will you work at and who will you work for?

First, academic vs. non-academic EM identity can to a large extent be affected by how your nation’s overall healthcare system is set up.

In countries with predominantly socialized medicine, “community practice” – very possibly a US-driven term – may simply indicate not being employed at one of the largest tertiary urban centers available, which carry all the prestige and concentrate all of research efforts. In such nations a classically proposed counterpart to academic medicine, a business-driven private EM enterprise, may be lacking completely.

If everyone works for the government, be it local or federal, then becoming “academic”, equally or more so than due to one’s personal talents and inclinations, may be the outcome of having urbanization, luck, connections or some other ability to find a bigger place to work. At one point or another one simply wins the lucky lottery ticket to move and “move up”. In essence, the EM physician is a large capital city’s teaching hospital worker first, and an academician largely by default. Such career aiming of course succumbs to the philosophy that urban and central is always better than rural and peripheral.

Second, let’s consider “community practice” as a kind of a weird term: if you are in academic EM, who else are you serving if not some community or communities? These may be communities of colleagues, trainees, organizations and researchers in addition to patients, but they are communities nonetheless.

Equally, if an EM physician is truly and solely in non-academic practice, does she really envision and lead her professional life without any engagement in research, publications, teaching, administration, local and international networking? What would the website “Life in non-academic EM” look like – a steady picture of a work mule without links or content?

Both terms academic and non-academic EM may be infused and muddied with other meanings like institutional- or government-affiliated practice, private practice, non-teaching, and so on.

In real life, both type of endeavors (if the distinction between academic and non-academic is genuine) can be conducted in very urban or in rather rural environments; and either practice type may be institutionally affiliated or tied to NGOs, governments or businesses. In the United States some recent criticism has sprung related to the so-called inbred residencies – EM training programs created and operated by large corporate entities.

More importantly for a future trainee: both types of EM practices may or may not involve exclusive night shifts, overtime, faraway travel, being underpaid, unfair seniority, feeling unappreciated and cogwheelish (new word for you), without a clear sense of direction or belonging.

Don’t get ridiculous with cliches.

Now to some cliches, most of which are from the trainees themselves.

One: the sigh “I love teaching, but I hate research” from those choosing non-academics.

Let me ask a provocative question: are all of the globally famous EM research superstars you and I know necessarily brilliant teachers? It appears that “I love research, but I hate teaching” never stopped anyone from an academic road. This, of course, is poor logic either way.

Teaching is a hard thing to do well, and there is a distinction between bedside and classroom teaching, but so is research! Just like the so-called charisma of say a journalist, perhaps some abilities one can be born with (in the words of Professor Snape, “possess the predisposition”). Yet, vast majority of skills can be and have to be acquired.

So instead of anguishing over your inborn leanings and phobias, think rather of what you would prefer to be doing, once you learn it, during any typical week of the next five or more years after residency. Now, how can you realistically translate that into life, given the types of attainable EM jobs out there in your current or anticipated environment?

Two: “get in, get out (of the ED), and enjoy the rest of your life!”

Often the EM backpack mentality, as bumper-stickered above, is sold as the prime appeal of non-academic work.

All true – academicians, when not at work, do not enjoy their lives to any significant extent. They spend most of their free time in dusky library dungeons and at other EM-bound noble activities, while those outside of academics enjoy hundreds of free hours sailing the high seas or YouTube.

As a very weak truism, non-academic EM may sometimes open up more free time for non-EM related activities of one’s life. But is wastage of time laying on a couch an activity, and are you susceptible?

On the contrary, it may be plausible that academicians may enjoy fewer and shorter shifts, more diverse practices, more immediate access to cutting edge innovations and articles, fuller specialist call panels and fewer unfinished charts to review and sign at home.

Three: “One should only do a fellowship if planning an academic career…in which case, you better get into one!”

No, you should probably do a fellowship primarily because you are very interested in what the fellowship is about. Everything else is an extra, albeit a welcome one – like perhaps natural entry into an academic institution or a network of contacts for expanded career options.

It is also completely legitimate to consider the burden and the years of your medical training so far. In some countries just getting to a recognized EM residency (which may be abroad!) has already cost you several years post medical graduation. In such cases, ambivalent feelings towards adding even more years via a fellowship to the perpetual student status are fully valid.

On the other hand, it may very well be that in the near future (if not already), all EM docs without a fellowship, whether entrepreneurial or in public service, academic or not, will become non-competitive for best jobs.

Is doing a fellowship straight off the bat after residency the only option? What if you are not interested in any during training, but become interested later?

To be fair, right after residency makes not only intuitive sense, but typically the system is set up that way, especially fellowship funding. Still, one has to be careful, as not all of fellowships are funded, nor are all fellowships accredited. Viewed in a constructive light, this creates not only constraints but also degrees of freedom for making choices.

True, if years pass, an entire family’s lifestyle dependent on attending level salary may not be very compatible with the salary of a fellow even with all the moonlighting in the world. But is the latter income difference profound in your country, or are the main barriers to a delayed fellowship of a different sort – e.g., government rules written in stone, the mass competition from the youngsters or some unspoken negative culture towards old-timers in their forties among fellowship directors?

Overall, nothing is insurmountable if given enough will, persistence and preparation. Otherwise, there would have been no people in their forties in my medical school class or residency.

Which professional currency would you rather deal in?

All mentioned above is not to be construed to say that some harsh realities do not exist.  One problem with cliches is that they are very zonal, while proclaiming to be universals.

The simple overhanging truth is that every field has its own currency, and both academic and non-academic EM are no exceptions.

For future EM trainees this is pertinent and applicable not only because of the obvious choices you will have to make after formal training, but also because of the need to gear and adjust your preferences while still in training.

Grant funding and publications are absolutely the ubiquitous currency in academics. Productivity, billing and people management (aka “leadership”) skills are the hardcore coinage in business-driven EM. Advancement and promotion within socialized medicine systems may call for yet another set of valuables altogether.

Still, thinking in terms of such hard constraints will tend to corner you in at least two ways.

First, it is not to be implied that ability to generate grants or publications never helps or is not useful in non-academics, or that no academician has to keep track of her billing and productivity metrics.

Second, if cornered, you will be liable to forget the correct reasons for choosing a certain path – the ones that spring from your deep interests and curiosities. These reasons miraculously happen to be the same ones to keep you out of burnout and disappointment years later, no matter what type of practice.

I am proposing a much simpler approach to the above dilemma. Choose currencies that will create the least disdain and subconscious resistance (manifested by nausea and wanting to do what your dog does after it gets wet), and then ones for which you think you already have more inborn propensity if not talent.

Finally, are you really ego-, career- and promotion-driven?  How would you define your own future success in EM?

Enough from me for now.

In future discussions and interviews we will try to elicit opinions of other EM physicians to shine different shades of light on the intriguing sub-topics this topic uncovers.

Stay tuned!


Journal Club 3/21/22: Mental Health in the International Community

Prevalence of burnout among university students in low- and middle- income countries: a systematic review and meta analysis - presented by Jonathan Kajjimu

Burnout is a form of distress that manifests with features of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal/professional accomplishment. Emotional exhaustion or unsuccessful coping with stressors, is the fatigued feeling that develops as one’s emotional energies are drained. Depersonalization refers to a student’s indifference, negative or cynical attitude. Reduced personal accomplishment is a negative self-evaluation of one’s abilities which manifests itself with feelings of failure. University education is an intrinsically demanding time which puts university students at risk for burnout, coupled with other burnout risk factors such as individual/personal factors and extracurricular factors. Burnout causes significant physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage to students.  

However, from this article there had been paucity of and discrepancies in data on the overall prevalence of burnout in university students from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Students pursuing health-related programs in mostly high-income countries (HICs) had been mostly studied previously.

In this review, 55 articles were included, with a total of 27,940 (female: 16,215, 58.0%) university students from 24 LMICs. The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) was found to be the most widely used tool for measuring burnout in 43 studies (78.2%). The pooled prevalence of burnout was 12.1% (95% CI: 11.9–12.3; p = < 0.001). Pooled significant prevalence of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced personal/professional efficacy were 27.8% (95% CI 27.4–28.3), 32.6% (95% CI: 32.0– 33.1), & 29.9% (95% CI: 28.8–30.9) respectively. Burnout pooled prevalence was highest among the African region at 35.4%, followed by the Asian region at 30.2%, and the European region at 20.7%. 

Figure 1: Forest plot for the prevalence of burnout in LMICs

In this review, burnout rates found in LMICS were lower than those in HICs, which the author believed to be due to publication bias. Authors further recommended low cost interventions that were needed more in low income countries than in middle income countries for managing burnout. These included mindfulness practices, yoga exercises, and group discussions. The current COVID-19 pandemic was also highlighted as having been found to put university students at a higher risk of burnout. Consequences of burnout in students include absenteeism, drop out, reduced academic performance, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, professional impairment and dissatisfaction, increased incidence of errors and near-misses.

Discussion Questions:

  • How can medical schools focus more on mental health of medical students?
  • How can we ensure that medical students always have their wellbeing in check? 
  • Do you think medical students actually get burnt out or are they just morally injured?

Some of the great recommendations received were having wellness days, “Opt out sessions”, and free counselling sessions in medical school for openly bringing out mental health issue discussions. However, one student confidently believed it would be difficult for schools to focus on mental health of students despite other discussants’ optimism.

Med students can: Focus on reducing energy drain. Identify what you can change – and what you can’t.  Align your goals, values and beliefs. Set limits and delegate. Create new challenges that are aligned with your values. Give yourself frequent breaks. Seek support. Monitor your energy level and emotional state. Eat energy and brain foods. Pace yourself. Build problem-solving skills. Lighten the situation with humor. Having regular physical exercise. 

Medical schools can: Advocate for student autonomy i.e. ability to influence student environment and schedule control. Provide adequate support services such as counselling, secretarial, administrative, social work, and financial. Encourage collegial work environments, healthy relationships and sharing of common goals. Minimize school-home interference. Promote proper work-life balance. Ensure vacation time and limit overtime. Establish mentoring. Consider periodic sabbaticals.

Kaggwa MM, Kajjimu J, Sserunkuma J, Najjuka SM, Atim LM, Olum R, et al. (2021) Prevalence of burnout among university students in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE 16(8): e0256402. pone.0256402

Mental Health in the International Community - Presented by Alexander Gallaer

Mental illness is a topic that is still gaining awareness, acceptance, and understanding in many parts of the world. While western medicine, most notably the DSM-V, has sought to carefully categorize and define mental disease, the definition of what constitutes mental illness is still very much disputed globally. Unfortunately, many global populations may suffer from unaddressed mental health struggles as a result of these varying attitudes. Notably, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as defined by the DSM-V, is a disease that has an enormous global burden. As emergency physicians increasingly become the sole health care providers, especially in marginalized populations, it is important to have awareness of what groups may need special attention or follow up to diagnose or address underlying PTSD. Some of these groups include male military veterans (lifetime prevalence of 30.9% (1)), emergency healthcare providers (up to 15.8% (2)), and, most notably here, refugee populations (up to 62% in some Cambodian cohorts (3)). Early recognition of symptoms and swift referral of patients to mental health services as soon as symptoms are identified could alleviate long term disease burden and lead to improved outcomes (4). Because refugee populations are high risk, providers can consider routinely screening for symptoms.

Discussion Questions:

  • How would you approach treating a mental health crisis in an individual who does not believe such issues exist, or that such disease processes can affect them?
  • How can we raise awareness of PTSD in populations with traditionally low recognition of mental illness? Should we do this?


1) Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(6):593.

2) Bahadirli S, Sagaltici E. Post-traumatic stress disorder in healthcare workers of emergency departments during the pandemic: A cross-sectional study. Am J Emerg Med. 2021 Dec;50:251-255. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2021.08.027. Epub 2021 Aug 14. PMID: 34416516.

3) Marshall GN, Schell TL, Elliott MN, Berthold SM, Chun CA. Mental health of Cambodian refugees 2 decades after resettlement in the United States.JAMA. 2005;294(5):571.

4) Fanai M, Khan MAB. Acute Stress Disorder. [Updated 2021 Jul 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-

The Unique Challenges of Mental Health and Multidrug Resistant Tuberculosis- Presented by Ellen Chiang

Calculating disability adjusted life years (DALY) aims to quantify disease burden in terms of both mortality and morbidity. This calculation is an important tool in global health work and as with all tools, it has limitations. Attempts to quantify disability from mental health disorders demonstrate the constraints of the DALY. 

Our understanding and definition of what classifies a mental illness is influenced by our sociocultural context. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is therefore impacted by politics and prejudice. While DALY calculations include sex and gender as weighted factors, many other social factors are not considered. Additionally, much of the medical research published in the major psychiatric journals center on Euro-American study populations, which limits the cross-cultural application of findings. 

Without full consideration of what is not captured by our quantitative measurement of choice, global health interventions can have unintended, significant consequences. The book chapter highlights this by discussing the emergence of multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDTRB) from the implementation of the DOTS protocol in Peru, which was supported largely by the cost effectiveness paradigm. 

Global health experts should understand the limitations of the DALY when using it to identify priorities and create and evaluate interventions. Remaining aware of what falls outside of the DALY can help create more context appropriate health interventions and new measurements that factor in important social dimensions of disease burden

Discussion Questions:

  • Is it possible to create a metric for disease burden that accounts for social context?
  • When implementing a large-scale health intervention, what are some ways to maintain the flexibility needed to address unexpected challenges?


Ji, Jianlin, Arthur Kleinman, and Anne Becker. “Suicide in Contemporary China: A Review of China’s Distinctive Suicide Demographics in Their
Sociocultural Context.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry 9, no. 1 (2001): 1– 12.

Anand, Sudhir, and Kara Hanson. “Disability-Adjusted Life Years: A Critical Review.” Journal of Health Economics 16, no. 6 (1997): 685– 702.

Sen, Amartya. “Missing Women: Social Inequality Outweighs Women’s Survival Advantage in Asia and North Africa.” British Medical Journal 304, no. 6827 (1992): 587– 588.

Wrap up!

We thoroughly enjoyed the discussion sparked by these three mentees and are proud to be to present a brief summary of their work here! Please stay tuned for more article summaries and details about our upcoming meetings.  Connect with us through one of our contact options listed below if you are interested in attending!

Thank you to our authors and presenters!

Jonathan Kajjimu, MS5

Jonathan Kajjimu, MS5

Mbarara University of Science and Technology

Alexander Gallaer, MS4

University of Connecticut School of Medicine

Ellen Chiang, MS4

Ellen Chiang, MS4

UNC Chapel Hill

Jeff Downen, MD, MS

Jeff Downen, MD, MS

PGY-2 University of Florida, Jacksonville
Blog Editor

Keep in Touch:

Cite this article as: Global EM Student Leadership Program, "Journal Club 3/21/22: Mental Health in the International Community," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, January 25, 2023,, date accessed: March 26, 2023

Journal Club 1/10+1/31/22: Sustainability and Language Justice

Tropical Diarrheal Illnesses in Children by Ying Ku

Tropical diarrheal illnesses (TDIs) are major health concerns around the world, especially in resource-limiting countries, resulting in approximately 500,000 child deaths annually. TDI is a gastrointestinal infection caused by pathogens that are prevalent in the tropical regions, with diarrhea being the main presentation. Most commonly, these diseases are spread by contaminated food and water due to inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. Among various microorganisms that can result in TDIs, Rotavirus and E. coli are the most common agents causing moderate to severe diarrhea in children in resource-limiting countries. Some common signs and symptoms are diarrhea, nausea &amp; vomiting, cramps, fatigue, fever, and chills. However, TDIs may result in death secondary to severe dehydration. When assessing TDI patients, it is crucial to determine  dehydration status and identify the type of diarrhea (watery or dysentery) given the different treatment approach. The most important treatment is rehydration with oral rehydration salts (ORS). ORS can be made with: 1 L water + ½ tsp salt + 6 tsp sugar. The more detailed treatment algorithm can be found in the Clinical Care Guideline for Integrated Management of Childhood Illness. Strategies in preventing TDIs can be summarized into blocking common transmission factors such as feces, fingers, flies, fields, fluids, and food via proper sanitation and hygiene. Lastly, we can help with this global health concern via donation/fundraiser for the organizations working to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation, as well as being involved in projects to help develop prevention and control strategies in different locations.

Discussion Questions:

  • What are the challenges in promoting better hygiene in developing countries?
  • Despite the widespread use of ORS, mortality associated with severe dehydration in children remains significant. What are some factors contributing to this challenge?

Language Barriers and Epistemic Injustice in Healthcare Settings by Savanna Hoyt

  • Introduction
    • Language injustice is one of the most significant challenges facing national health systems.
    • Language barriers between patients and practitioners can have significant adverse impacts on quality of care.
    • Every phase of the healthcare process relies on effective communication.
  • Language and Healthcare: Complex Dynamics
    • In diverse societies, healthcare challenges stem from the fact that while language is a human commonality, it manifests through a wide range of languages.
    • Culture influences every aspect of illness, including interpretations of symptoms, explanations of illness, seeking help, adherence to treatment, and patient-provider relationships.
  • Linguistic Epistemic Injustice:
    • An example of testimonial injustice (misjudgement of how a person speaks), is when a patient and physician do not share a first language, but must communicate in it due to a lack of translation services.
    • Different concepts of illness across languages can result in hermeneutical injustice (misjudgement of what a person says).
  • Linguistic Epistemic Humility:
    • Linguistic epistemic injustice can be countered by linguistic epistemic humility.
    • In healthcare, epistemic humility involves becoming aware of your own capacities within your own language, with other languages, and actively searching for ways to overcome language barriers.
    • When considering patient-physician relationships across language barriers, the physician can facilitate positive relationships and deliver better care by recognizing their own language ability, acknowledging language needs of the patient, and attempting to correctly pronounce the patient’s name.
  • Conclusion
    • A more language-aware healthcare process can further advance the health of the general population, ensuring practice and research are carried out in a more equitable manner.

Discussion Points:

  • How can we as future physicians work towards eliminating language barriers in healthcare?
  • What are the possible outcomes of addressing language barriers in healthcare?

Social Forces and their Impact on Health Presented by Sreenidhi Vanyaa Manian

In medical school, we learn about the causes of various diseases usually falling into categories of infectious, genetic or immune-mediated processes. However, when it comes to causes often it is enclosed under the broader umbrella of social forces that impact health—defined as the social ‘determinants’ of health.  

“The unequal distribution of power, income, goods , services, globally and nationally, the consequent unfairness in the immediate visible circumstances of people’s lives-their access to healthcare, schools, and education , their conditions of work and leisure , their homes , communities, towns and cities – and their chances of leading flourishing life.”

We witness these social forces everyday and millions across the globe experience its impact on health. Insufficient food, inadequate safe water and discrimination based on race, gender and ethnicity are obstacles on the road to health. 

Rudolph Virchow investigated a typhus epidemic which he later called the ‘artificial epidemic’ as he identified the role played by factors such as lack of access to food, education, employment, as well as political isolation with the spread of disease rather than the microbe itself. 

“Medicine is a social science and politics (is) nothing but medicine on a grand scale”

Who LIVES? Who dies

Structural violence creates and perpetuates ill health, suffering and death. It is an unfair and evil entity that victimizes the underserved communities creating a lasting impact on their emotional, social, physical and mental well-being. Structural violence is inherently political and is fundamentally about resources and power. 

Poverty constrains choice, often in a brutal fashion.


Communities with lower socioeconomic status have been shown to have higher rates of accident, drug use depression and anxiety compared to those in higher socioeconomic groups. 

In 1848 Rudolf Virchow identified the lasting impact of social forces on health. How do we combat this? The answer is biosocial approach to global health wherein the healthcare provider attempts to understand the patient’s experiences, including the social forces present in the life of the person; as well as the impact of illness in the context of his/her daily life. This necessitates a deep historical, political and social understanding of the community

We all have heard the quote “Health is Wealth.” But we must understand that some degree of wealth is required in order to attain health that gives people a fair chance on their journey to liberty, peace and the pursuit of happiness.  

Discussion Points:

  • Any social movements that you know that led to better chances for good health in your community?
  •  What will you suggest (given the power) to the government to mitigate adverse social determinants?
  • What do you think is the greatest barrier to achieve equitable health?
  • During history taking, what are the other questions that can be asked to the patient for a more holistic approach to treatment?

Wrap up!

As you can imagine, our mentees had a wonderful discussion surrounding these three topics! We are thrilled to be able to present a brief summary of their work here. Please stay tuned for details about our upcoming meetings.  Connect with us through one of our contact options listed below if you are interested in attending!

Thank you to our authors and presenters!

Ying Ku, MS3

Ying Ku, MS3

Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine

Savanna Hoyt, MS2

Savanna Hoyt, MS2

Northeast Ohio Medical University

Sreenidhi  M Vanyaa, MS4

Sreenidhi M Vanyaa, MS4

PSG Institute of Medical Sciences and Research

Halley J Alberts, PGY2

Halley J Alberts, PGY2

Blog Editorial Lead
University of South Carolina
Prisma Health Midlands

Keep in Touch:

Cite this article as: Global EM Student Leadership Program, "Journal Club 1/10+1/31/22: Sustainability and Language Justice," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, January 18, 2023,, date accessed: March 26, 2023

Video – Panel Discussion – EM Education in Asia

This blog post includes one of the presentations of Emergency Medicine Education in Asia Webinar organized by Asian Society for Emergency Medicine on July 9, 2022. 

Video – International Emergency Medicine Education Project

This blog post includes one of the presentations of Emergency Medicine Education in Asia Webinar organized by Asian Society for Emergency Medicine on July 9, 2022. 

Video – Road Forwards in Emergency Medicine Education

This blog post includes one of the presentations of Emergency Medicine Education in Asia Webinar organized by Asian Society for Emergency Medicine on July 9, 2022. 

Question Of The Day #100

question of the day
Which of the following is the most appropriate next step in management for this patient’s condition?

This patient arrives to the Emergency department with 1 week of melena and fatigue.  His medication list includes an antiplatelet and an anticoagulant medication.  There is tachycardia and melena noted on examination.  This patient likely has an upper GI bleed based on his signs and symptoms with peptic ulcer disease as the most common cause.  The patient’s anticoagulation serves as a risk factor for GI bleeding and is an important contributing factor in this scenario.  Please refer to the chart below for a list of causes of GI bleeding, GI bleeding signs and symptoms, and the initial Emergency Department treatment of GI bleeding. 

Gastroenterology consultation for emergent endoscopy (Choice B) is not necessary as the patient is not acutely unstable.  He may need a diagnostic and therapeutic endoscopy during an inpatient admission, but the GI consultants do not need to be called emergently for this procedure.  An acutely unstable upper GI bleed patient, such as a patient with hemodynamic instability, requiring intubation for airway protection, receiving multiple blood product transfusions, or with brisk (rapid) bleeding on exam should prompt GI consultation for an emergent endoscopy for source control.  Surgery consultation for gastrectomy (Choice C) is not a first-line treatment for upper GI bleeding.  Gastroenterology should first perform a diagnostic and therapeutic endoscopy for most upper GI bleed patients.  Surgical esophageal transection, gastrectomy, colectomy, and other surgical procedures are last resort measures to control GI bleeding.  Administration of IV Ceftriaxone (Choice D) is not needed in this scenario and should not be given routinely in upper GI bleeds.  This patient has no infectious signs or symptoms.  Antibiotics, such as Ceftriaxone or quinolones, should be given to upper GI bleed patients with chronic liver disease (i.e., cirrhosis), or presumed gastroesophageal variceal bleeds.  Antibiotics have been found to have a mortality benefit in this patient population with GI bleeds. 

The best next step in management is to treat the patient’s tachycardia with normal saline (Choice A) for volume resuscitation.  This patient may eventually need blood products, but crystalloid IV fluids are okay to start until the Complete Blood Count results return.  This patient is not in overt hemorrhagic shock, so blood products can be held until there is evidence that the hemoglobin is below 7g/dL.  Reversal of the patient’s anticoagulation with Vitamin K and fresh frozen plasma may also be needed depending on the INR level.  Reversal can wait until coagulation studies are complete since the patient is not acutely unstable. An unstable patient should have their anticoagulant reversed immediately. Correct Answer: A


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #100," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, August 12, 2022,, date accessed: March 26, 2023