Global Medical Summer Study

Four-week program gives international students a taste of Canada's health system

By Sasha Roeder Mah

Every summer, a group of select medical students from top schools in China-and, more recently, Thailand-gathers at the University of Alberta for a crash course in Canadian health care. The intensive four-week Global Medical Summer Program introduces some of Asia's best and brightest to what it's like to study and practise medicine in Canada. This elite summer school was designed and implemented three years ago by the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry's Director of International Programs, Renny Khan, together with late dean Richard Fedorak and a small advisory group.

Where did the idea for a Global Medical Summer Program come from? "China is innovating its health-care system and looking at international models," explains Khan. Several years ago, a handful of Chinese medical schools-including Peking University ("the No. 1 ranked university in China," says Khan); Fudan; Zhejiang; China Medical University and Jilin University-reached out to the U of A, seeking a partnership that would show their best medical students Canada's medical-education and health-care systems.

Why a summer school? To best serve those students without taking away resources from the MD program, Khan and Fedorak decided on a summer school. "It works for the vacation season in Asia, and it works because our students are off school at that time," says Khan, which means increased faculty availability and improved accessibility to on- campus housing. Every summer, the program serves about 30 carefully selected students from the upper echelons of the partner schools.

What do the four weeks include? Khan calls the program "medical school in a box." The students get a taste of the Canadian system through lectures, discovery learning and small-group discussion sessions with U of A faculty, MD and PhD students. Perhaps most important, local physicians and advisers to the program-especially family doctors John Chiu and Fang Ba-recruit colleagues in family medicine and a few other specialities to open up their clinics for weeklong observation sessions.

How is this different from comparable programs at other schools? Khan says this is a unique program in North America. "When we did the research before starting, we found other programs in places that offered general summer courses. What we could provide to our partners and students was a very strong, interesting, innovative and engaging academic experience with opportunity for observation sessions; nobody else is doing that." In other summer schools, he continues, "the students are left on their own" to find housing and get to know the city. Here, the program co- ordinator helps connect the visiting students with housing and the group gets together outside of instruction time for shared meals and outings. "We really take care of these students."

What is the goal of the summer school?

"We are aiming to influence future leadership in education, clinical practice and research," says Khan. "These students are going to become physicians in the top health systems in their countries, and we're giving them a snapshot of how that works in Canada, and how we train for the system in Canada."

How does the program benefit U of A students and faculty?

The summer school "builds our brand among elite universities in China and other countries and creates a lot of opportunities for us," Khan says. "They have a big vision and as they're rising, we want to be in that company." The program also generates revenue. "We charge a tuition and we earmark a significant portion of that revenue for our medical students to go out on global exchanges." Most exciting to Khan is the reciprocity factor. Local students-MD and PhD students have opportunities to teach and mentor during the summer school-get to learn about a very different approach to health care. This has proven a particularly exciting side-benefit, says Khan: "I want to prepare our future physicians for the globalized world."

What feedback have you received from visiting students? Visiting Chinese students are surprised by western instructional methods. "Teaching in China is still somewhat rote learning, where the teacher stands up and lectures and the learning is passive. The whole meaning of 'teach' is very different here," says Khan. "It's more interactive-like a conversation- and they embrace that." They also express surprise at how much hands-on practice local medical students get compared to them. By far the difference most noted, though, is the crucial role the family doctor plays in Canadian health care, a role that doesn't exist in the Chinese medical system.

How would you like to see this program grow? While the project was piloted in partnership with Chinese schools, Khan says, he sees enormous potential for growth. "If we're going to call this a global summer school, it should encompass a breadth of countries and partners that we work with, so we have been expanding." New to the program, for example, is a partnership with Thai school Thammasat University. "My vision is to have a broad representation of regions and expand the number of positions in the program."