Social and Community Medicine Training for Medical Students Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic in Rwanda


University of Rwanda class on social and community medicine and palliative care taught by PIH / IMB staff and UGHE faculty member Dr. Florence Akiiki Bitalabeho. Photo by Zack DeClerck / PIH
University of Rwanda class on social and community medicine and palliative care taught by PIH / IMB staff and UGHE faculty member Dr. Florence Akiiki Bitalabeho. Photo by Zack DeClerck / PIH

This year has been unpleasantly rough on students across the world. In Rwanda, schools including medical schools have had to completely shut down numerous times to curb the spread of COVID-19 among students. Hardly any universities were able to graduate students in the whole year.


Yet even in these challenges, we were able to adapt and conduct our Social and Community Medicine Program (SOCOMED) because when the current conditions will be long forgotten and the world back on its feet, we will need a global movement of doctors with a blended mix of clinical skills and knowledge needed to influence the social determinants of health and promote health equity.


This year, we received 134 medical students in total. The program immersed students in the study of social and community medicine through "walk the talk" teaching methodology, blended learning, and bringing community members (such as frontline health workers and patients) to discuss and understand the significance of social determinants of health. y

In addition, students further explored living conditions that influence patients’ health through visits to health centers, meeting community health workers, and economic activities in Rwinkwavu and Butaro, two of the rural districts where Partners In Health implements impactful health projects. This helped students to understand that efforts by just one sector cannot prevent or eliminate the problem rather a continuum of collaboration from different sectors.


PIH/IMB staff and UGHE faculty member Dr. Florence Akiiki Bitalabeho teaches a University of Rwanda class on social and community medicine and palliative care. Photo by Zack DeClerck/PIH
PIH/IMB staff and UGHE faculty member Dr. Florence Akiiki Bitalabeho teaches a University of Rwanda class on social and community medicine and palliative care. Photo by Zack DeClerck/PIH


The Social and Community Medicine Program (SOCOMED) is a joint initiative of the University of Rwanda and Partners In Health, locally known as Inshuti Mu Buzima, designed for fourth-year medical students.


SOCOMED alumni are translating their knowledge into Action at their organizations.


Since its inception in 2012, it has groomed medical doctors into health equity leaders. “SOCOMED opened our medical eyes to think beyond the hospital to the community level. Personally, it helped me to reduce health gaps caused by differences in race, ethnicity, location, social status, income, and other factors that can affect health,” said Dr. Fiona Mahoro, who is now working as an intern at Rwanda Military Hospital.


Students who graduate from SOCOMED continue to work in organizations and hospitals that bring modern medical care to patients while also creating an equitable health care system.

Next year, SOCOMED will be a decade-old. 430 students will be enrolled in the program, where they will learn social determinants of health, and use their skills to help over 995 mine workers working in Burera District, an area with a worrying number of Silicosis cases as a result of unhealthy mining activities.

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