By: Yasmine Elmir
Dr. Juan Pablo Pimentel-Gonzalez recently defended his PhD thesis, “Cultural Safety in Medical Education: transformative learning through co-designing serious games in Colombia,” in McGill’s Department of Family Medicine. Before beginning his doctoral journey, Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez received his MD from La Sabana University in Colombia and an MSc in Epidemiology from the Autonomous University of Guerrero in Mexico. Following his medical degree, Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez became a research assistant at the Center of Intercultural Medical Studies, a Colombian NGO, in addition of being a lecturer in Community Health at La Sabana University. His work in both institutions aimed to promote cultural safety in medical education, which later became the topic of his PhD thesis.
Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez decided to join McGill’s Department of Family Medicine after a conversation with Dr. Neil Andersson, Professor in the Department, in 2015. “I told him about the cultural safety exploratory experience that I was conducting in Colombia,” recalls Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez. “He suggested I could pursue a PhD in Family Medicine at McGill to refine and develop my ideas. I did not think about it twice as I have always been interested in intercultural experiences and had always wanted to live and study abroad. It was a good opportunity to study at a world-class university.” Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez was awarded the Rodolfo Llinás Scholarship from the Colombian CeiBA Foundation, which allowed him to start his PhD in fall 2016.
“I think the PhD program in Family Medicine and Primary Care at McGill University is unique,” Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez notes. “I see it as an interdisciplinary program that combines patient-oriented, community-based research with innovative methodologies and participatory research approaches. The instructors are internationally recognized experts in primary care research. The support I received from the students was amazing. The Family Medicine Graduate Student Society organized events to develop and strengthen my social network, which also helped to boost my learning and personal development experience.” During his studies, Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez received a Fonds de Recherche Santé Québec Doctoral Training Scholarship, the Soe-Lin-Hecht Global Health Graduate Award, the Norman Bethune Award for Global Health, the BLUE Scholarship, the Graduate Excellence Award (GREAT), and awards from the Réseau de recherche en santé des populations du Québec.
Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez, who is passionate about intercultural medicine, previously worked with a committee of local traditional medicine users from a village near Bogota, Colombia. He invited medical students to work with the traditional medicine users to co-design community-based projects to strengthen traditional medicine knowledge and resources. “The community-based learning experience proved to promote a powerful change among medical students. I communicated these results in the two first manuscripts of my doctoral thesis,” shares Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez. “For example, many students recognized that their families, and even themselves, are traditional medicine users as well, but they learn in medical school to demean their own cultural heritage.” In addition, Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez participated in community-based projects to strengthen traditional medicine among Indigenous groups from the Colombian Amazon. “It was a powerful and transformative experience for me,” he says.
Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez, whose work was supervised by Dr. Neil Andersson and Dr. Anne Cockfort, defended his PhD thesis in March 2021. His thesis aimed to foster cultural safety in medical training through game-based education of medical students and interns in Colombia. “My initial exploratory community-based learning experiences showed interesting results,” he explains. “However, this type of learning required way more time than packed medical curricula can accommodate. I also wanted to explore teaching methods that are congruent with the way modern medical students learn.” Methods included a scoping review, sequential qualitative studies, a pilot and full-scale randomised controlled trial, and a narrative evaluation of the most significant change experienced by medical students after cultural safety training. More than 650 people including medical students, traditional medicine users, researchers and educators were involved in the project.
“I see myself as a clinician-scientist,” says Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez. Now that he completed his PhD, he wants to continue to advance the cultural safety and intercultural medicine approaches based on three professional areas: clinical practice, medical education and research. He plans to return to Colombia to engage in capacity building for a few years. In addition, he will resume his clinical practice as a general practitioner, teach what he has learned in his doctoral studies and keep conducting community-based projects. In terms of long-term goals, Dr. Pimentel-Gonzalez endeavours to pursue a residency in Family Medicine and post doctoral studies.