The Med School

by Sascha Matuszak

The Medical School has long relied on an informal structure to provide international perspectives for its students and faculty.
Students were expected to find a sponsor — either a member of the faculty or an institution — and make their own way across the globe.
To organize their efforts, medical students created the Subcommittee on International Medical Education at the Medical School during the 1984-85 school year.
The subcommittee assisted students in finding overseas medical experiences.
Former Medical School Dean Dr. Neal Gault and his wife, Sarah, donated money to the Minnesota Medical Foundation to partially support a limited number of annual grants, said Dr. Edward Kaplan, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology.
Medical students applied for the grants, which included a research projects overseas.
Recently, with globalization reaching into every facet of life and University President Mark Yudof putting pressure on colleges to improve their international programs, the Medical School decided to go a step further.
A little over a year ago, the International Medical Education Research Program Office was formed under Al Michael, Medical School dean, and Greg Vercellotti, associate dean.
“They understood that it was enormously important for medical students to have some internationalization of their curriculum,” said Dr. Phil Peterson, director of the Medical School’s international office.
No one realized the need for a drastic improvement of the international experience and curriculum at the Medical School more than its students.
“The need has already presented itself, and addressing it is addressing our own shortcomings to get adequate training for today,” said Kristine Olson, student liaison to the international office.
“If you know the rules (of a certain culture) and someone from that culture walks into your office, you’ll know what to do,” added Murisiku Raifu, co-chair of the Student International Health Office. “You don’t need to know what disease is endemic to an area; that you can learn in microbiology class.”
Because of a large influx of immigrants from developing countries, diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and travel diarrhea are showing up among Hennepin County Medical Center patients. Doctors need to be trained to handle these ailments.
“Medical students can train in Minnesota and never leave Minnesota, and they will take care of international patients,” Peterson said. “You don’t have to go abroad to practice tropical medicine.”
At a Dec. 3 seminar on international health in downtown Minneapolis, medical officials said infectious diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever and AIDS are projected to take more human lives than any other diseases by 2020.
“Clearly, if we look at the major global health problems of the next century, infectious diseases outnumber heart disease and cancer by a long shot,” Peterson said.
In preparation, Medical School faculty members and students have begun fostering closer relations with developing countries.
A partnership with the Autonomous University of Central America’s medical school in Costa Rica is in the works, mirroring existing agreements with Scandinavian universities.
The Medical School also has a major interest in India, exemplified by an agreement with St. John’s Medical College in Bangalore. School officials have offered strong support for a proposed health and nutrition institute in the country.
“(The) Medical School is excited about this because it will foster this intercollegiate program where our medical students and faculty will interact with all sorts of clever people from other colleges,” Peterson said. “It’s a different era, and its clear that the solutions to the problems we see are interdisciplinary.”

Sascha Matuszak covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected].