The response of medical students, young physicians, and other health professionals to the February 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Chile provides important lessons about health care delivery during disasters and about the development of professionalism. Tertiary and secondary care of victims of these disasters was possible because local and national resources were available and field hospitals provided by Chile's armed forces and foreign countries replaced damaged hospitals. However, primary care of persons living on the outskirts of towns and in small villages and coves that were destroyed and isolated by the disaster required the involvement of volunteer groups that were largely composed of students and other young members of the health professions, all of whom were motivated by solidarity, compassion, and social commitment.
This experience, similar to previous catastrophes in Chile and elsewhere, reinforces that medical and other health professional schools must instill in graduates an understanding that the privileges of being a health professional come with responsibilities to society. Beyond providing high-quality scientific and technological education, curricula in these schools should include training that enables graduates to meaningfully contribute in the setting of unexpected disasters and that nurtures a sense of responsibility to do so.