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SHP: Building a Bridge to Turkey

Group Shot TurkeyUAB leadership team in TurkeyThe first Bosphorus Bridge, which spans the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul, Turkey, is literally the bridge from Europe to Asia. It connects Ortaköy, on the European side, and Beylerbeyi, on the Asian side. And as Turkey works on a third Bosphorus Bridge today, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) works on its own bridge with Turkey.

In May 2013, UAB sent a powerhouse group to Turkey to spend 10 days with leaders in education, research and health clinical services. The UAB team included Harold Jones, Ph.D., dean, UAB School of Health Professions; William Ferniany, Ph.D., CEO, UAB Health System; Richard Marchase, Ph.D., vice president for research and economic development; Linda Lucas, Ph.D., provost, UAB; Max Michael, M.D., dean, UAB School of Public Health; and Linda Moneyham, senior associate dean for academic affairs, UAB School of Nursing.

First, a quick lesson on Turkey. The country is a member of NATO but not the European Union. It has the fastest growing economy in Europe and is the 15th largest economy in the world.

And in terms of education all you really need to know is that Istanbul University was founded 323 years before the United States was founded – back in 1453 to be exact.

“There is a real misunderstanding by many Westerners about Turkey; people think of it as the Middle East, but it is more European with a Middle East feel,” said Jones, who was making his second trip to the country. “They believe the exchange of ideas and people are in the ultimate best interest of their culture and their populous. They are looking for dialogue and partners from around the world and that is why UAB was welcomed.”

Jones CappadociaDean Jones at CappadociaJones first visited Turkey in 2011 but at that time he was only looking at opportunities for exchanging students. This trip abroad focused on UAB’s health sciences and the potential for a wide-range of partnerships including research, curriculum development and capacity training. The UAB team also discussed the possibility of faculty exchanges.

The UAB team visited 10 institutions in their quest to find the best partners. They also visited the Turkish Ministry of Health and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBITAK). TÜBITAK is their equivalent to our National Institutes of Health (NIH) and it co-funds research between Turkey and the United States with the NIH.

Jones sees three areas that best suit the School of Health Professions for partnerships.

1.      Health Care Management – Hacettepe University, based in Ankara, is the first in Turkey to have this program and would be a natural partner to the UAB Department of Health Services Administration.

2.      Physiotherapy – better known in the U.S. as Physical Therapy, is a fast-growing discipline in Turkey and matches the UAB Department of Physical Therapy.

3.      Research – Istanbul University and Hacettepe University, the two oldest medical/biomedical research centers in Turkey, each study obesity and diabetes, two areas that are specialties of the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences.

The UAB leadership team is working on an assessment of the trip and will soon report their findings to UAB President Ray L. Watts. In the meantime, Jones, S. Robert Hernandez, Dr.P.H., director of the Doctoral Programs in Administration-Health Services in the School of Health Professions, and other leaders from UAB return to Turkey in October to more fully solidify partnerships in health administration.

CastleView from Bosphorus straitLater this fall they anticipate the vice rector, equivalent to our provost, from Istanbul University will visit UAB’s campus to discuss physical therapy initiatives. They expect leaders from Şifa University, located in Izmir, to visit Birmingham in the fall to discuss physical therapy and nutrition.

In 2014, Haceteppe University will be sending students to UAB and the School of Health Professions is in discussions with the university to identify activities to build a cross-continental collaboration – call it an educational bridge.

“When people look at international collaboration there is a tendency to do a little bit in a lot of different places, but ultimately you need to find two or three places that you can focus a lot of your energy,” said Jones. “It is okay to do a bunch of projects in a lot of different countries but we need to identify where is our best opportunity to find synergy and make a real impact on lives and there is no doubt that Turkey is one of those countries.”