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Summer learning

Ahmad Al-Askar and Alex Xu, firstyear medical students, travelled to China on an adventure to broaden their horizons, and experience the practice of medicine in a completely different culture.

Whirlwind days of medical rounds, observing surgeries and shadowing during patient visits provided countless learnings for Al-Askar and Xu. However, witnessing the relationship between physicians and patients provided some of the most meaningful lessons. They both came to really appreciate the importance of trust in the patient-doctor relationship and how their listening skills are paramount when providing care.

A similar international journey played out for Matt Douglas-Vail in Tanzania. Inspired by physician-humanitarians such as Drs. James Orbinski and Paul Farmer, it’s not surprising the second-year medical student embarked on a four-week global medical elective at Muhimbili Hospital in Dar es Salaam, the country’s largest city.

The language and cultural differences proved challenging, but he welcomed the chance to learn outside the classroom.

“This experience has given me a new appreciation for people who come to Canada for the first time, and are faced with a medical issue,” said Douglas-Vail. “I can understand so much more, now, how a language barrier can complicate an already delicate and difficult situation.”

Whether in the emergency unit or patient wards, Douglas-Vail and the seven other students who participated in the elective had the opportunity to interact with patients who had travelled hours and miles for care and required lengthy courses of medications.

His greatest learning, however, came as a result of observing the similarities in the practice of medicine despite cultural differences. “The interaction and expectations of families in Tanzania and Canada may be very different, but Gitelman syndrome is the same regardless of location,” he explained. “Medicine creates bonds between people and cultures.”

These types of insights and skills gained as a result of summer electives are life-changing says Dr. Gary Tithecott, associate dean, Undergraduate Medical Education.

“Each summer our students access opportunities to broaden their skills in our curricular competencies through the research and clinical electives we offer,” he said. “They return to us in the fall, with more confidence and a deeper understanding of diversity and the social determinants of health directing patient and family-centred care.”