How to start a global health interest group at your institution

Despite having a huge campus, state of the art healthcare, and an amazingly diverse group of employees, my hospital did not have a Global Surgery “group.” There were surgeons, nurses, scrub technicians, and even pharmacist going on medical and surgery missions projects and lots of individual efforts going on. We have a fund available to us as residents for competitive scholarships to various locations for humanitarian health endeavors. But no one was getting together to have discussions and provide wisdom and support to the group. No one was addressing the enthusiasm of our medical students for this field. And no one was promoting education of the larger group of employees regarding all the potential benefits of participating in humanitarian projects. I could imagine an amazing Global Surgery department at our hospital, much like what I explored via the internet sites from Harvard and Stanford.

I tried to think of the most basic first step. What was the move that would be completely without controversy, free, and easy for this one person to pull off? The answer: Organize a journal club. Journal clubs are ubiquitous, 100% educational and therefore in line with the mission of my program, and flexible. I could design it to meet when and where was convenient for me (I hosted the first few), and also drum up enthusiasm and support from others that might want to participate.

So that’s what I did, and we just decided to see what might happen next…

We had a small group of highly enthusiastic participants, including medical students. We met at the homes of group members and enjoyed very wonderful home made food. I was thrilled that some of our attending physicians agreed to host!

I was committed to meeting monthly with the exception of December and selected articles that tried to set the groundwork for understand the current state of the Global Surgery arena. We started with the Lancet publications (see and ended up talking through various publications from this series for the first 3 meetings. We branched out to publications featured on the Lifebox website (see

Group members started to undertake fantastic research projects and promotion of humanitarian missions. As a group, we brainstormed about how to establish a Global Surgery center, which is our current active goal.

Perhaps most importantly, we became a close-knit and defined group of Global Surgery enthusiasts, and there is tremendous motivation in having this support from peers and mentors.

Starting a Global Surgery, or medicine, or pharmacy, or simply global health, journal club, is a quick and easy first step for starting the fire at your institution. With consistency, you can build an alliance of folks looking for camaraderie and practical advice. There are no downsides!

Let me know if you’ve had a successful strategy for starting a humanitarian medicine group of any subspecialty at your institution in the comments below. It would be great to share strategies for success!