Navigating effective ways to provide high quality community healthcare services to patients at risk both in America and northern Israel is among the major learning insights of students participating in the exchange program between Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va., and the Bar-Ilan University Medical School (BIUMS) in Safed, Israel.
Steven Warsof, MD, EVMS Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN), helped bridge the relationship between the two schools. Since the Israeli school opened in the fall of 2011, Dr. Warsof has dedicated his time on numerous occasions to teach at BIUMS.
“Teaching in Safed combines my three passions — getting closer to my family in Israel, teaching obstetrics and helping Israel in the best way I know how,” he said.
Others instrumental in the creation of the exchange program were Terri Babineau, MD, EVMS Vice Dean for Students Affairs, and Michael Weingarten, BIUMS Associate Dean for Medical Education, as well as the Chairmen of the school’s respective OB/GYN departments: Inbar Ben Shacher, MD, Chair and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Ziv Medical Center, which is BIUMS’ affiliated teaching hospital, and Alfred Abuhamad, MD, Chair and Professor of EVMS Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Mason C. Andrews Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The EVMS student exchange program for medical students is being funded by a generous gift from Ron and Cindy Kramer and their family from Virginia Beach. The BIUMS student exchange program is being funded by a grant along with gifts from members of the Maimonides Society of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.
The first phase of the exchange program allows students in their last year of medical school planning to specialize in OB/GYN. It gives them the opportunity to broaden their medical experience before starting residency training. The exchange program got underway last year with two EVMS students traveling to Israel and two BIUMS students traveling to the United States for a four-week stint.
The four students who participated in this program so far have expressed appreciation for the international educational opportunity. Their positive experiences confirmed that exchange programs such as this one are helpful in expanding their knowledge and broadening their medical horizons.
Mae Winchester, MD, who was the first EVMS student in this program, says she found her experiences at BIUMS to be rewarding because the patients there were very appreciative of getting local access to the highest quality of care.
“It never ceases to amaze me how much you can learn from a couple weeks in a new environment,” said Dr. Winchester, “and yet I still keep learning from it back at home, in situations you never would have imagined. I’m still learning from Israel.”
Gil Rubinshtine, MD, a graduate of BIUMS, said that he learned a great deal from the more complicated OB/GYN cases that came to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital via EVMS’ OB/GYN department, which is the regional tertiary perinatal care center in Southeastern Virginia. It was his impression that some of these complications occurred not only from medical problems but related to unique social and economic factors that affect patients worldwide.
Dr. Warsof was inspired to start this program after volunteering his services to BIUMS and its partner hospital, Ziv Medical Center. He was impressed by how quickly the Medical School has had a positive impact on improving healthcare in the Galilee.
“During the short period the School has been there, it’s made amazing progress. The community is very fortunate to have inspired and dedicated leadership at BIUMS,” said Dr. Warsof. He added, “As a physician for 40 years, I can safely say that my relationship with the Bar-Ilan University Medical School is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my professional career.”
Founded three years ago, the Bar-Ilan University Medical School shares EVMS’ community focus as it was created for the purpose of providing improved medical care in an underserved community. Because of the very mixed socioeconomic and cultural background in both Hampton Roads and northern Israel, there are many potential opportunities for unique public health and community health projects for both students and doctors in this exchange program.
Phase two of this program, which is now being launched, involves faculty exchanges between the two schools. In December 2014, Ed Karotkin, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, spent a week as the guest of Eric Shinwell, MD, Director of Neonatology at Ziv Medical Center. Dr. Karotkin has expressed interest in expanding his role at BIUMS in the near future.
The final phase of the program involves developing collaborative research between the partner institutions. Dr. Warsof and David Peleg, MD, a physician at Ziv Medical Center, have already published several scientific articles and abstracts through joint efforts between the two schools.
Also in the works, four new research labs will be constructed at Ziv Medical Center as part of a joint project with BIUMS. The research work and expanded facilities at BIUMS are being supported by the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University.
“With partnerships such as this, the future looks bright for these two institutions,” said Dr. Warsof.