Exchange Program Takes Students to Mexico City

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Exchange Program Takes Students to Mexico City

Four medical students returned to school this fall with a renewed appreciation for the medical profession thanks to a program called Medicine and Public Health in Mexico that took them to Mexico City this summer for a six-week experience in international health.

Joined by several Northwestern University undergraduates, the students were hosted by the capital city’s Universidad Panamericana, a small, private institution with its own medical school and, according to program organizer Dévora Grynspan, PhD, assistant dean of international and area studies in the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “a dedication to improving medical education.”

Medical students, most of whom had just completed their first year of medical school at Northwestern, were assigned to senior medical students in Mexico and spent two weeks each in three or four hospitals or clinics, ranging from a clinic in an impoverished section of the city to a modern upper-middle class hospital. As time and interest allowed, they also took part in activities arranged for undergraduate students, who received academic credit for the program. Activities included seminars on public health in Mexico that featured highly placed officials from Mexican health agencies, lectures on the art and history of Mexico, and Friday field excursions. Undergraduate students’ experience included intensive training in the Spanish language and research on a medical or public health topic of their choice, the latter conducted under the guidance of a Universidad Panamericana preceptor.

Now a second-year student, Jennifer Han of Springfield, Virginia, was one of the first to sign up for the program. “I cannot begin to describe what an amazing opportunity this was in terms of learning about another culture, meeting new people, and gaining medical experience,” she enthuses. “We learn mainly by the book during our first two years of medical school, and it’s hard to understand exactly how it applies unless you have experience with patients. But working with the residents at the various hospitals in Mexico was incredibly inspiring. They were knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and compassionate. It reminded us of why we wanted to be physicians in the first place.”

Remarks Dr. Grynspan, “I have programs for all kinds of students, and this is one of my favorite because the students are focused and committed. It’s not just that they want to travel abroad for the summer; they want to spend their time doing something professionally relevant.”

The program will be offered again next summer, but for up to eight weeks instead of six, and several students have already signed up. An exchange program, it will offer clerkship opportunities at the Medical School for medical students from Universidad Panamericana, although the arrival of the first group has not yet been determined. Dr. Grynspan and colleagues have initiated contact with universities in Cuba and South Africa to arrange similar programs, but the logistics involved will require substantially more time before the programs are up and running.

The Medicine and Public Health in Mexico Program is part of a broader international health project funded by the National Security Education Program of the Department of Defense. The funding also includes support for new conferences, courses, and fellowships.

Among the courses are Introduction to International Public Health, International Perspectives on Violence: Public Health and Law, and Emerging Global Regimes in Health, which will focus on international responses to health crises by organizations ranging from Rotary International to the World Health Organization. Lectures began in November with a speaker from the World Bank, and a spring public health conference is planned.

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