A hundred years ago, health and medicine experienced a historical transformation. The Flexner Report of 1910, which essentially linked the scientific advances of previous decades (germ theory, anatomy, and physiology, etc.) to medical education, catalyzed a monumental shift in practice that resulted in substantial increases in life expectancy and improvements in the global burden of disease.
Despite the successes of the past century, there seems to be an overwhelming sense among the various health professions that we can do much better.
“Glaring gaps and inequities in health persist both within and between countries, underscoring our collective failure to share the dramatic health advances equitably. At the same time, fresh health challenges loom. New infectious, environmental, and behavioural risks, at a time of rapid demographic and epidemiological transitions, threaten health security of all. Health systems worldwide are struggling to keep up, as they become more complex and costly, placing additional demands on health workers.
What is clearly needed is a thorough and authoritative
re-examination of health professional education,
matching the ambitious work of a century ago.”
- Health Professionals for a New Century, Lancet
The way we have been trained to practice health and medicine is no longer adequate. We need to incorporate complex systems thinking into health education, much the same way that Flexner incorporated science into medical education a century ago.
What would be different with CST? That’s a good question that we can’t entirely answer, and that’s okay. Imagine sitting at lunch with Flexner in 1910 and asking him what health would look like if science were linked to medicine. He may talk about how medical treatments would be tested empirically, but he certainly couldn’t have predicted the discovery of antibiotics and chemotherapies, or the emergence of cardiologists inserting stents in patients’ hearts. Likewise, we don’t know exactly what will come of incorporating CST into health education. We anticipate more community engagement, increased local capacity, less waste and redundancy, more effective prevention, better trans-disciplinary collaboration and iterative learning, and ultimately, better thinking, better systems, and better health for everyone.