French medical students to provide compulsory "health service"

This format, similar to social and military services will be a unique experiment in the European Union

Once a campaign promise of incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron, the “Health Service” will be a requisite for France’s 47,000 medical students and is set to start in September 2018.

Although the announcement was expected, it still made a lot of noise in France. Frédérique Vidal and Agnès Buzyn, the country’s ministers of higher education and health respectively, followed up on the recommendations of a policy report on the issue that was submitted to the government in February this year.

Prevention and training

This “health service” will be compulsory for all medical students, and it will be a requisite for obtaining a final degree. The program itself will last three months for a half-time attendance or six full weeks, which can be spread over a period of time. The health service will be required at different stages of a participant’s study, depending on their field: During the second year for nurses, third year for medical students and fifth year for pharmacists.

After aggregating the fields of medicine, odontology, pharmacy, midwifery, physiotherapy, and nursing, there will be more than 50,000 conscripts engaged in this service by the autumn of 2019. As the plan is implemented, more health-relevant specializations and disciplines will be included, such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychomotor therapists, hearing care professionals, nutritionists, and electro-radiologists.

A pedagogic component

According to Buzyn, "the goal is to introduce all health professionals to primary prevention" while it is intended that medical students are deployed predominantly in teaching places such as colleges, high schools, and universities. The project will eventually expand the deployment of students into companies, nursing homes, and public health institutions. Also, there are four thematic foci to be tackled by these new types of healthcare missionaries: Emotional and reproductive health, addictive behaviors, physical activity, and nutrition.

This strategy seems to target the complex issue of France’s social and territorial inequalities by reaching audiences who have often been on the fringes of preventive care. "The students will spread in the most encompassing way, they will leave the cities and head to the rural areas. We will ensure a good territorial coverage" said Frédérique Vidal.

Students engaged in the compulsory scheme will not receive a government salary but nonetheless, the government announced that students' expenses necessary for this program will be covered, although no further details on types, amounts or procedures for this financing have been made public. “The goal is to help all healthcare sector stakeholders to work together in improving the nation’s health”, said Vidal.

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