June 14, 2024

A description of the program Rector participated in promises participants will “come away with an understanding of how lifestyle, behavior, and environment influence urban and rural outcomes.”

Rector spent the month living with a host family. The program included 10 hours of Spanish lessons. Her clinical experiences were divided between a Public Maternity Hospital in Quito, and an Indigenous Medicine Clinic in Otavalo, about 90 minutes outside of Quito.

Rector, who matched in OB-Gyn at University of Toledo, worked with doctors from the ER, family medicine, and the OB-Gyn clinic.

“It was great to learn more obstetrics and gynecology vocabulary in Spanish and learn about some of the cultural differences in the field,” she says.

Similarly, Goldstein — who matched at Detroit Medical Center — went to Jerusalem for a surgical elective rotation.

It had special meaning to him because surgeons at the same hospital had effectively saved a family member’s life about 10 years ago.

“I had the opportunity to work with numerous surgeons who actually operated on my uncle…join their cases and round with them,” he says.

That included Guy Rosenthal, M.D., chief neurosurgeon at Hadassah Hebrew University and University of California, San Francisco.

“I scrubbed into cases and participated the same as I would have in the U.S.,” says Goldstein. “That could mean holding traction, throwing a stitch, or doing other minor parts of the procedure.

“I was close enough and involved enough to make it a great educational experience,” he adds.

One of his biggest takeaways was how people from many different backgrounds can work together in the name of health care.

“I walked into the operating room for the first time and I was hearing numerous different languages being spoken,” he said. “Arabic, English, Russian, and Hebrew…all being spoken at the same time, and everybody was able to communicate perfectly.”

“Seeing that unity was really amazing and something that I’ve never seen before for people from such different backgrounds,” he said.

Community serving a community

Such experiences are the kind of goals set by the directors of OUWB’s Global Health Initiatives: Inaya Hajj Hussein, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Foundational Medical Studies; Allison Ball, M.D., a pediatrician and clinical faculty member; and Srikala Yedavally, M.D., a family physician and clinical faculty member.

An image of Dr. Goldstein in Hadassah
Ben Goldstein, M.D., OUWB ’23, and Guy Rosenthal, M.D., chief neurosurgeon at Hadassah Hebrew University and University of California, San Francisco. (Submitted photo)

Creation of the initiative was led by Rachel Yoskowitz, BS (Nursing), MPH, who retired from OUWB in 2020.

Today, OUWB’s Global Health Initiative falls under the auspices of Compass, which is the school’s department dedicated to community engagement.

“I’m a big believer in OUWB being a community that is serving a community,” says Hajj Hussein. “And that applies to the global community.”

It’s an approach that dates to the school’s beginning.

OUWB and The Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School signed an affiliation agreement in 2011 — the same year OUWB welcomed its first class. Essentially, it is an exchange program whereby each school sends students like Goldstein to the other for a brief period.

From there, programs were created with universities and health systems around the world: Korea, Tanzania, Mexico, Japan, Ireland, India, China, Canada, and more. Nearly 50 students have participated in such electives at OUWB, according to available records.

In 2020, everything came to a halt because of COVID-19.

In 2023, however, OUWB’s global health initiatives got back on track.

‘Better, more compassionate physicians’

Hajj Hussein says the importance of OUWB having global health initiatives can’t be understated.

“Our patients are becoming more and more diverse,” she says. “It’s important to understand patient cultures, their backgrounds, and what they’ve gone through. It’s not just about diagnosing diseases but also getting this global perspective.”

“This will help (medical students) ultimately be better, more compassionate physicians,” she adds.

Further, the COVID-19 global pandemic showed everyone just how interdependent we are, says Hajj Hussein.

“As the CDC says, ‘a disease threat anywhere is a disease threat everywhere,’” she says.

These are two primary reasons Hajj Hussein says program directors try to find opportunities for all students at OUWB.

First- and second-year students can participate in internships and special trips, primarily during the summer. OUWB also endorses student participation in the Child Family Health International (CFHI) program, ideally for rising M2s. M1s and M2s also have several lectures on topics related to global health, such as the origins and purpose of the World Health Organization.

Those in their fourth year of medical school can participate in global health initiatives primarily through electives. The electives — located in about 80 different countries — are vetted and organized through the American Association of Medical Colleges Visiting Student Learning Opportunities (VSLO) program. Students must receive approval to participate from OUWB administration. Further, they are graded and must clearly identify pre- and post-trip objectives. (Funding is available in some cases. Due to various reasons, not all programs are available every year.)

Allison Ball oversees the program for M4s. Ball spent significant time as a physician in Rwanda through the Human Resources for health program, helping build up the local health care infrastructure.

“A lot of people go into medicine saying that they want to help people or work with people that help people,” says Ball. “Those who seek opportunities abroad, or in different health communities, also feel that way, but have an experience that benefits them personally…what they get from it is always so much more than what they put into it.”

Ball says there is a lot to learn from going into a community and understanding how to provide useful services while respecting local culture.

“It changes your life in a lot of ways, personally and professionally,” she says.

Ball says the global health initiatives are especially suited for M4s because their schedules generally have time carved out specifically for such electives.

OUWB global health initiatives continue to expand, too.

In late 2023, OUWB began offering students the opportunity to participate in the University of California San Diego Border Health Elective. Through the program, students are part of a team evaluating the health of asylum seekers who cross the border from Mexico to the U.S.

In another new offering, several rising M2s are expected to be among those who are part of an Oakland University contingency that will travel to Ghana.

The three-week, faculty-led program will provide students with a hands-on, community-driven experience covering social issues affecting women and children. Students will participate in community-based health care through visits to facilities and community clinics and engage with professionals to understand the health needs of a developing country.

It’s the first time OUWB will be part of the trip — and it aims to provide exactly the kind of experience that will allow OUWB to continue to produce top-notch physicians.

“Our mission is to have physicians who are human and compassionate,” she says. “When they have this global perspective, they’re going to be better doctors.”

For more information, visit OUWB’s Global Health Initiatives webpage.

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