The consequences of formal study abroad programs on Thai medical doctors: a literature review and research
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Many Thai scholars are skeptical that Thai medical doctors can utilize knowledge and skills in Thailand from experience acquired when they study abroad, due to cultural differences, including a hierarchical culture that places importance on seniority and can prevent medical doctors seeking to actualize those new skills when they return to work in Thailand. Despite growing interest in and study of globalization, there are few existing studies that explore the relationship between social and individual consequences of formal study abroad programs. Nor are there many studies that apply sociological theory on the professions to less developed countries, or that focus on the relationship between power and culture in medical education in Thailand. This thesis will explore these topics by first reviewing and discussing three main bodies of sociological literature on medical professionalization, educational institutions, and study abroad. Given the gaps in the literature, it proposes a comparative study that relies on in-depth interviews with two groups of Thai medical doctors: those who have studied abroad and those who have not. The comparative design will allow the researcher to gain leverage on the consequences of study abroad to individual career trajectories, as well as the broader healthcare system, and contributes to the building of new sociological theory. Despite the many challenges that Thai doctors who go abroad face in adapting and actualizing new skills, I hypothesize that study abroad alters Thailand’s social hierarchy through the creation of a new class of “international doctors,” endowed with new skills, knowledge and cultural capital. While the benefits of belonging to this elite class may not be manifested immediately, due to the seniority system, they become apparent over time.