The aim of this study was to identify global health ethical issues that health professional trainees may encounter during electives or placements in resource-limited countries. We conducted a qualitative study involving focus groups and an interview at the University of California San Francisco. Participants were multi-professional from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy and had experience working, or teaching, as providers in resource-limited countries. Eighteen participants provided examples of ethical dilemmas associated with global-health outreach work. Ethical dilemmas fell into four major themes relating to (1) cultural differences (informed consent, truth-telling, autonomy); (2) professional issues (power dynamics, training of local staff, corruption); (3) limited resources (scope of practice, material shortages); (4) personal moral development (dealing with moral distress, establishing a moral compass, humility and self awareness). Three themes (cultural differences, professional issues, limited resources) were grouped under the core category of “external environmental and/or situational issues” that trainees are confronted when overseas. The fourth theme, moral development, refers to the development of a moral compass and the exercise of humility and self-awareness. The study has identified case vignettes that can be used for curriculum content for global-health ethics training.
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