This is a story about networks. A story about the balance between their simplicity and the impact they can bring about. My name is Miguel Cabral and I’m a Medical Resident of Public Health (MRPH), in Amadora, Lisbon, Portugal. One of the great things the Portuguese Public Health (PH) residency has is the chance for MRPH to do some of their training abroad, while still receiving their salary. Another great thing is that we have 3 months for an optional internship, which means we can pretty much choose anything we want to do in the world, as long as we work on a PH area under the supervision of a PH specialist.
In my case this was very handy. My wife was doing an internship in Rome for her residency. I wanted to find an internship that would allow us to be together and make the most out of the experience on a professional level but also on a personal level. So, I “just” had to find an internship somewhere in Rome that would not require an Italian speaking person (I can understand basic Italian but you don’t want to hear me speak).
So… networks of people. Here is where a Maltese MRPH gets into the picture. A friend of mine, that is also part of the European Network of MRPH (EuroNet MRPH), passed by Lisbon and we had a coffee and a pastel de Belém by the Tejo River. I hadn’t searched too much for internship opportunities yet, but he told me he knew the perfect guy for me to do my internship with. The next day, I had an email message from Dr. Carlo Favaretti with a general proposal of what an internship with him would be like. And boy, I was thrilled! As my wife puts it: there were many words I liked, all together.
Fast-forwarding the bureaucracy needed, some months later, I was entering the Public Health Institute of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, in Rome. The institute hosts several interesting institutions. One of them is a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre focused on Leadership in Medicine. The other one is a spin-off from the University called V.I.H.T.A.L.I. (Value In Health Technology and Academy for Leadership & Innovation). I like to think institutions reflect the people that are part of them, and the institute had several remarkable people indeed, both on professional and personal levels. But we’ll get back to that shortly.
Before my internship, I thought I would mainly deal with the topics of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) and Leadership, since Dr. Favaretti is the president of the section on HTA from the European Public Health Association (EUPHA) and is part of the Leadership Centre, on top of having extensive experience in health management. However, I got a big bonus, as I’ve also ended up dealing a lot with the topic of Value Based Health Care (VBHC), which is becoming quite trendy in Portugal (and a bit everywhere).
The most astonishing thing I’d like to point out is how much I’ve learned in so little time. I’m convinced that a temporary switch of network and work environment allows one to get in touch with so many different ideas, perspectives and methodologies that it feels like some sort of intensive course on whatever the topic dealt with. In my case, I would particularly highlight the areas of HTA and VBHC. In the classes I had about HTA they usually just addressed clinical and economical evaluation, so to find out something so schematic as the EUnetHTA model was very positive. And on the topic of VBHC, the discussion in Portugal is very centred on the notion of Value by Michael Porter, the author that launched the concept, by defining value as a formula that divides the outcomes of the patient by the costs used to obtain those outcomes. To me, it seemed strange to apply this to a National Health Service (NHS) type of health system. And, of course, I was not alone. During this internship I learned about Sir Muir Gray and Dr. Jani Anant’s work on the field and their notion of triple value, which is particularly more adequate, in my PH view. I was fortunate enough to even meet them in person, as the institute has very good relations with them. This is another benefit of trying out new networks as one might even get in touch with connections from that network.
As I see it, sometimes you get lucky and you grow a lot in professional terms with these internship opportunities, some other times you get very lucky and you end up also growing personally due to the relationships you build. I’ve learned a lot from the senior and junior specialists in the institute, but I’ve also learned with and because of the MRPHs in the Institute. In Italy, the PH residency is mainly based on Universities. I was able to connect with MRPH from different stages of residency and in the case of UCSC, the residents are very proactive and they even organize Global Health Courses for Medical Students in the University. How cool is that?! If they wanted to host a EuroNet MRPH meeting, I think they would probably do it without any trouble!
Besides all this, there was also Rome and Italy. There is culture around every corner and under every rock (I mean literally as during my stay they found new ruins when a bit of pavement on a road sunk due to the rain). I was able to travel around quite a lot and visit several landmarks in and outside of Rome. It is amazing how even in tiny cities I’ve visited there were some amazing monuments to be seen and the food was always good. The only travelling I didn’t enjoy was the traffic, which is quite hectic. Other than that, I have only good things to point out of my internship.
Therefore, I highly recommend every MRPH to do an internship outside their usual network of connections, as the benefits will likely out weight the costs. I was lucky enough to have someone in my network (thank you Stefan!) that was able to point out the perfect internship for me, but there are also other ways to go. For instance, you can make use of the internship program from EuroNet MRPH. Or if you are very keen on a specific place or topic that is not on the EuroNet list, you can also make use of the list of WHO’s collaborating Centres. You’ll likely have to put in a bit more effort to make it happen, but it will most likely pay off. In my case it definitely did. I’ve learned a lot, ate a lot of good food (and drank a lot of macchiato coffees as only Italy can provide), visited amazing places and enriched my network with a group of very knowledgeable, proactive and generous people. My experience would not be the same without them and I’m very thankful for them. I look forward to attending a EuroNet Meeting there very soon!
Medical Resident of Public Health (MRPH)
Amadora, Lisbon, Portugal