Understanding how medicine is practiced all over the world can have an enormous impact on medical students. It provides a broader and more sophisticated perspective as they build their careers, says Dr. Ariel Munitz of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
Now Dr. Munitz has developed an innovative exchange program with the Cincinnati Children's Hospital (CCH) to give Sackler's students a head-start. A new faculty recruit who completed his post-doctoral fellowship at CCH, Dr. Munitz hopes to give Israeli participants an inside look at a leading hospital and provide the experience of how a top medical system functions in the United States. Students spend a total of four weeks in the US, including one rotation in general medicine and another in a specialty. There are also activities and lectures designed to expand their educational and hands-on experiences.
The competition to snag a place in the program is fierce, says Dr. Munitz, who co-directs the initiative with Prof. Karen Avraham and Dean Yossi Mekori. The search committee looks for more than top academics. Candidates must also act as ambassadors of TAU and Israel, show a long-term interest in pediatrics, and give back to the community through volunteer work.
Dr. Munitz believes that the program will foster closer collaboration between the two institutions. "Every year there will be at least four alumni from this program. They will remember their experience, and as physicians and researchers, continue their interaction with Cincinnati Children's Hospital," he hopes.
Learning from leaders
This winter, the second group of Sackler students participated in the exchange. All agree that they were inspired by their experience at a cutting-edge institution. Hadas Katz-Dana, who has been considering a career in pediatrics from the time she entered medical school, says that she was keen to apply to the program so she could get an up-close look at life and work in a top US hospital.
Due to its worldwide reputation, CCH is a pilgrimage site for children and families with difficult and rare diseases. "In two weeks, I saw more there than I could see in Israel in months," Katz-Dana explains. "The doctors allowed us to enter the labs and surgeries so we could be involved in every step of the treatment process. And we saw more diverse populations, both medically and culturally, than we get to see here."
Yoel Gofin calls the program an "opportunity to see medicine in its optimal state." CCH doctors have more time to spend with patients and their families, relating to them on a personal level, he says. The experience made him more appreciative of strengths of the medical system at home, too. "It also made me proud of the Israeli system where everyone gets the same treatment, even though we don't have a lot of funds. You don't have to ask people what kind of insurance they have."
With support and friendship
Not only were the students embraced by the hospital staff, but they received a warm welcome from the Jewish community in Cincinnati. For Nadav Kugler, this was one of the highlights of his journey. The students were invited to Shabbat dinner by a different family every week. "It was really nice to have a home-like experience," he says.
And Kugler says he has another reason to be thankful. As a full-time medical student, he also works as a computer programmer to pay for his tuition and living expenses. A program like this would have been out of his reach if not for the support of Keith and Karen Spero of Edwards, Colorado, who first met Kugler on a trip to TAU. After hearing about his circumstances, the couple generously decided to sponsor his trip.
"During our recent AFTAU trip to Israel, my wife and I were very impressed with the TAU campus as well as with the TAU students and faculty that we met," says Keith Spero. "We had lunch with Nadav and were struck by the level of his maturity, his work ethic, his sincerity, and his passion for becoming a pediatrician to help the children of his country. He told us about the exchange program with Cincinnati Children's Hospital and we wanted to help fund this opportunity for him."
"I was touched by their support, involvement, and interest in my story," Kugler says. "It was more than a gift — it was a tangible contribution to my education and my future." He says that his time in Cincinnati has encouraged him to select pediatrics as a specialty. He hopes to return to the US after graduating to complete a fellowship at a children's hospital — and Cincinnati Children's Hospital is a top choice, he reports.
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