New Publication: Lessons learned in crises abroad can be applied at home


New publication from members of the Humanitarian Health Ethics Research Group in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. You can check it out here.

Some more information can also be found through the McMaster webpage here

Domestic Applications of Lessons Learned by Canadian Health Care Professionals Working in International Disaster Settings: A Qualitative Research Study


Background: Individuals with prior experience in international disaster response represent an essential source of expertise to support disaster response in their home countries. Our objective was to explore the experiences of personnel involved in international emergency health response regarding their perceptions of essential disaster response attributes and capacities and determine how these competencies apply to the Canadian context.

Methods: For this qualitative study, we conducted semistructured interviews with key informants in person or over the telephone from May to December 2018. Participants were delegates deployed as part of the Canadian Red Cross medical response team in a clinical or technical, or administrative role within the last 5 years. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Conventional content analysis was performed on the transcripts, and themes were developed.

Results: Eighteen key informants from 4 Canadian provinces provided perspectives on individual attributes acquired during international deployments, such as agility and stress management, and team capacities developed, including collaboration and conflict management. Key informants, including administrators (n = 5), technicians (n = 4), nurses (n = 4), physicians (n = 3) and psychosocial support workers (n = 2), described these experiences as highly relevant to the Canadian domestic context.

Interpretation: Canadian physicians and health care workers involved with international disaster response have already acquired essential capacities, and this experience can be vital to building efficient disaster response teams in Canada. These findings complement the Canadian Medical Education Directives for Specialists (CanMEDS) roles and can inform course design, competency and curriculum development for physician and professional training programs related to disaster response and preparedness.

The potential for disasters and public health emergencies is increasing globally,1 requiring expertise and capacity to mitigate and manage such events. The critical importance of emergency planning has been made even more apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic.2 In Canada, emergency preparedness and response is one of the core competencies of public health professionals.3 To mitigate the threat of the pandemic, Canada implemented a “whole-of-government” approach that included simultaneous actions in economic, social and health sectors. Public health has led the collaborative decision-making within the different levels of government by placing measures to increase and protect health care capacity. Public health also progressively implemented strict physical distancing measures, masking, lockdowns, quarantine measures, travel restrictions and bans on nonessential travel.4

Despite these measures, the pandemic has put health care workers in an unprecedented situation, and they work under extremely stressful and unpredictable conditions.5 Given the current pandemic and the inevitability of future disasters, it is important to consider opportunities for developing disaster and emergency response expertise within the Canadian health workforce. Thus, it is critical for the broader health care sector to collaborate with public health teams and effectively deliver medical services during emergencies.

Canada has extensive international disaster response expertise in health that partly resides within organizations like the Canadian Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders), which specialize in deploying self-sufficient health emergency response teams (sometimes called emergency response units) of health care professionals and other team members. Beyond the primary humanitarian benefit of international emergency deployment, there may also be a domestic benefit that accrues when the emergency response capacity of local health care providers and the health care system is expanded. The existing literature, along with anecdotal evidence, suggests that Canadian health professionals with experience in international disaster response teams may have developed skills and capacities that could be effectively used in emergency response in Canada.6,7

The objective of this study was to explore the experiences of health care and other personnel involved as delegates in international emergency health response regarding their perceptions of the individual attributes and collective capacities of a team during disaster response and how this may benefit disaster management in Canada.

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