Eight first-year medical students recently returned to UAB from international clinical training electives at the Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo (INTEC) in Baní, Dominican Republic, and Chung Shan Medical University (CSMU) in Taichung City, Taiwan. While each location provided a unique experience, all of the students enjoyed immense hospitality at their host institutions and were given the opportunity to put their studied knowledge into practice. All eight students were awarded scholarships by UAB International Medical Education (IME) for their four-week trips as a part of the Medical Student Enrichment Program (MSEP).
Kevin Lee, one of the two medical students who traveled to Taiwan, was thrown into several medical scenarios he had not previously experienced. For example, during his rotation on General Surgery, the doctors asked him to “scrub in” for the operating room, but he was not certain about the proper protocol. However, they kindly explained the process, and he came out of the experience with more confidence in his ability to learn on-the-go. He also witnessed the larger practice of healthcare from a brand-new perspective. He explained, “I loved my time in the hospital whether it was an eight to five day or an eight to eight 24-hour day. I loved seeing how medicine is practiced in Taiwan, especially looking for differences since they are on a national healthcare system. But, nothing could beat the relationships built while I was there.”
Rebecca Massey was one of six students who travelled to INTEC. She fully expected to experience a culture shock moment but was surprised when something very different happened. She shared, “The vast cultural barriers I expected to experience on this trip simply never materialized. At every turn, I found that our community reminded me of somewhere really familiar—rural Alabama. While shadowing during my undergraduate years, I had the opportunity to see how medicine is practiced in rural Alabama. I was surprised to see that medical practice in rural Dominican Republic is actually very similar.” Instead, she had the chance to explore language barriers and the depth to which communication is important in providing excellent healthcare.
Fellow MS1, Marshall Lewis also travelled to the Dominican Republic and found that although he had in depth experience studying Spanish, he was still limited in some ways. He explained, “As I began interviewing my first clinic patients, I realized that the cadence of their speech and even some of the vocabulary that they used to describe their medical history differed greatly from the Spanish that I had studied and been exposed to previously.” However, Lewis realized something important through his slightly frustrating experience: “Medicine is a language, and like Spanish it takes a certain level of familiarity and proficiency in order to understand and internalize concepts. I’m constantly surrounded by medical students and doctors who perfectly understand the language of medicine, and as such, it’s easy to forget just how foreign physiology or pathology can be to the average person.” Thanks to his foreign study experience, Lewis found better, simpler ways to discuss treatment plans with the patients he saw.
“Our goal with MSEP is to create and foster international relationships that will allow our UAB medical students to experience global medicine,” said Majd Zayzafoon, M.D., Ph.D., assistant dean for International Medical Education. “We provide our outstanding students with all the necessary logistics and financial support in the form of scholarships to travel and gain experience. From these experiences, they will have a better understanding of health care delivery abroad in order to later apply this knowledge to serving Alabama’s rural areas. It is especially a joy to see our first-year medical students exhibiting more confidence in themselves after returning home from these invaluable life-changing experiences.” IME would like to give a special thanks to James Willig, M.D., MSPH, assistant dean for Clinical Education, for serving as co-director for the 2019 cohort of students who went to the DR and for cultivating the relationship with INTEC.
Please visit the IME MSEP website to read more about these personal experiences as written by our scholarship students:
Autumn Beavers – Dominican Republic
Paul Chisolm – Dominican Republic
D. Cameron Lee – Dominican Republic
Marshall Lewis – Dominican Republic
Rebecca Massey – Dominican Republic
Kalah Ozimba – Dominican Republic
Kevin Lee – Taiwan
Yilan Liu – Taiwan