Eliminating the Barriers to Global Medical Education

“What if the global shortage of health professionals could be a thing of the past?” That was the question posed by the inventor and founder of NextGenU.org, Dr. Erica Frank, MD, MPH, FACPM, speaking at a TEDMED conference in 2015. 


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a global shortage of doctors, and there is a need for an additional 18 million healthcare providers by 2030. Dr. Frank noted this problem is especially bad in Low and Middle Income Countries, particularly on the continent of Africa, where the limited number of physicians is contributing to huge problems. 


In 2001, Dr. Frank’s vision for democratizing education evolved out of an idea that could address the global physician shortage by taking advantage of the opportunities stemming from technological advances. Seven years before Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were first described, Dr. Frank created NextGenU.org, an online learning portal that offers free courses and certificates in partnership with distinguished universities and governmental partners. 


As the first online portal to offer free higher education with free certificates from our accredited partners, for anyone, anywhere in the world, NextGenU.org is removing barriers and making health education globally accessible. Our virtual courses give people from Low- and Middle-Income Countries access to health education for professional development. 


NextGenU.org has learners registered from every country, and through 314 universities, and is eliminating the barriers to education, “Our courses have a number of educationally endearing qualities: they are free of important barriers like place and cost, and they also reduce barriers like the time and carbon emissions typically needed to travel to a university. They also have the opportunity for great computer-based interactions, and they’re globally scalable, and the only real risk to trying for someone with web access is the time spent on learning.”


To create an excellent educational experience, Dr. Frank explained that NextGenU.org considered ways of incorporating elements that traditional universities have but MOOCs don’t have. “Characteristics like warm human interactions, the ability to customize, and a thorough assessment process. As for the traditional university characteristic that most people concentrate on, NextGenU.org course completion is available with a certificate, for free for our learners around the world. If you really want to create ideal characteristics in an educational system, it would have components that neither MOOCs nor traditional universities incorporate into their program, for example, being competency-based, or having an open research policy around one’s data, so we have incorporated all of those characteristics into our model.”


While MOOCs are disrupting traditional university business models, some create quality concerns as they are not subject to standard regulations. NextGenU.org goes one step further and does not attempt to replace the human interaction and benefits gained from seeing, doing, and learning manual skills in medical education or the beliefs and cultural norms transferred in an apprenticeship model. We have addressed these concerns by partnering with established universities, professional societies, governments, and international organizations to provide those human interactions for our courses.


Peer-reviewed literature shows that compared to traditional university and continuing education, we produce highly similar (and sometimes superior) knowledge transfer and (particularly in a flipped or blended classroom setting) comparable or superior student satisfaction. Our students have particularly expressed pleasure at being able to learn anytime and anyplace. These findings are based on the results of pilot programs in the United States, Canada, and Kenya, with the tested courses now available globally for free through NextGenU.org


“After these first few pilots, we can up-purpose these outstanding, freely available learning objects into courses, and through the courses up-purpose millions of smart people around the world to become the physicians and nurses, the public health workers, and really any kind of health professional that the WHO believes we need.”


Each health professional who is trained can over the course of their career provide care to thousands of people, helping them live healthier lives.By building the global capacity of health professionals, we contribute to improved access to healthcare worldwide.