Under the best of circumstances, attending medical school is a daunting undertaking. Add to the equation studying in a country thousands of miles from home with different customs and language. To some, such a situation would be out of the question. However, to those who are up to challenge, the rewards will far exceed those of your typical medical school experience. Entering its 20th year, Ben-Gurion University’s Medical School for International Health (MSIH) is producing the medical leaders of the next generation. With global health modules during all four years of study, students are prepared for a changing world. The school is located in Beer Sheva, Israel, and third-year clinical work is done at Soroka University Medical Center and other facilities in Israel.
Many of these unique experiences are documented by the students in monthly blogs posted by first-year students. Chelsea Powell, a MSIH third-year student once wrote: “On a clinical rotation in the pediatric ward of Soroka, the class met with a Bedouin father whose young daughter was hospitalized after pouring a pot of boiling water on herself. He had never been to the hospital before and was initially concerned that his identity as a Bedouin might compromise the quality of care his daughter would receive. Instead, he was amazed at how little that mattered. He noted that his daughter’s health care team had one goal, and that was to help her. Israel is a place of profound passions, vastly different cultures, and political conflict; confronting all of it prompts daily considerations. Soroka is a sanctuary from all of that, a place where coexistence thrives. Hearing this Bedouin father speak about Soroka in such a positive way reinforced my belief in the power of medicine to transcend conflict.”
Graduates of MSIH have a keener understanding of what it means to be a successful physician with a better understanding of the patients they will be treating. This excellence in education and training is recognized by institutions across the United States and Canada as demonstrated by a residency match rate on par with top US medical schools. Jay Berkes, another third-year MSIH student, explains, “At MSIH and Ben-Gurion University, like hundreds of institutions around the world, we take a Physician’s Oath at the start of our medical studies to guide us on a path through that dissonance. With Dr. Shimon Glick, a founding member of BGU’s Faculty of Medicine and a leader in the practice of medical humanism and medical ethics, we learned that this oath and this ceremony is in place to bear on us the responsibilities and duties, and not just rights, of medicine…... the Physician’s Oath is a guiding hand, a statement of our duty to serve, and a reminder to be agents of change for the benefit of our patients and our communities.”
Students come from all across the globe, where they blend together, support each other and learn to embrace their differences. Wentiirim Annankra, a second-year student from Ghana, writes that upon arrival in Israel she found many new customs she was unfamiliar with. For instance, at first to see an entire country shut down on Friday afternoon for the Sabbath seemed a bit odd. Wentiirim states, “With time this culture of observing the Sabbath began to slowly seep into my personal life as well.” As the demands of medical school increased, Wentiirim was finding herself isolated from family and friends. She states, “I was getting drained and exhausted. I did not want to be tired every time I sat down to study. I wanted to enjoy studying and learning new things. I don’t know when I made my mind to try to observe the Sabbath like some people did here in Israel, and really enjoy the various holidays we have during the year. But that was one of the best decisions I have made so far……During this time, I catch up with family, friends, personal hobbies, and other things that really matter to me apart from studying….Mind you, if you had suggested this idea to me before I came to medical school, I might have told you, ‘no way …’ but… well ….”
Though not required, students are encouraged to contribute to current scientific medical research. Last May, MSIH third-year student Jonah Cohen published a paper on the ‘Well-Being of The Ethiopian-Israeli Community.” As part of his studies, Jonah was exposed to the Ethiopian community and examined the implications of various interventions on the health and well-being of this immigrant population. The article focuses on the Ethiopian-Israeli community from a global health perspective, highlighting the community’s history and health, while noting governmental and nongovernmental initiatives to enhance integration and establish successful health care intervention.
Students at MSIH complete medical rotations and clerkships in Israeli medical centers, such as Soroka University Hospital. Dr. Asher Moser, MSIH associate director for student affairs, often shares with his students many of his experiences including a mission to Nepal to administer medical care after a devastating earthquake. This strong foundation serves the students well when they return to North America for their fourth-year electives and the years beyond.
MSIH students have the opportunity to not only learn in a traditional classroom setting, but the ability to integrate their lessons into practice. In 2015, Mark Hylarides, a third-year student, joined a small international team organizing long-term projects with community leaders in Amman and outlying towns with the goal to alleviate conditions for Syrian refugees throughout the region.
In 2012, MSIH students Jonah Mink (’12) and Tobin Greensweig (’13) discovered, while completing their global health elective at the Israeli Ministry of Health’s Refugee Clinic in Tel Aviv, that despite the best of intentions, patient files were often missing or inaccessible to the volunteer staff who were treating the patients. Together they drafted and later helped create a proposal for a project to implement electronic medical records, using software that is easily customized for the clinic’s needs. The system has streamlined the record system allowing the attending physician to have access to a patient’s previous records.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the school, MSIH has announced The Ben-Gurion Global Health Scholarship. This scholarship will be awarded to one student entering in 2018 who has demonstrated academic excellence along with an interest in global health. The scholarship will cover full tuition for all four years of the MSIH MD program, provided continued satisfactory academic performance.
To learn more about Ben-Gurion University’s Medical School for International Health, visit our website, msih.bgu.ac.il, and join us for an Open House and Information Session at our New York admissions office on Wednesday evening, September 13, at 6:30 p.m. To register for the open house, visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/medical-school-for-international-health-information-session-and-open-house-tickets-36836680503. For additional information contact either Kelly Coleman, MSIH assistant director, recruitment and public relations at [email protected] or Beth Adelsberg Chesir, MSIH assistant director, admissions and external affairs at [email protected]il.
By Beth Adelsberg Chesir
Beth Adelsberg Chesir is MSIH Assistant Director, Admissions and External Affairs, and a Teaneck resident.