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OU-COM Welcomes First International Exchange Student


By Suzanne McMillen
December 13, 2010

(Athens, OH) -- OU-COM welcomed its first international exchange student thanks to an OU-COM student organization that made the program possible. The program, developed by students in the local chapter of the American Medical School Association (AMSA) and by representatives of the International Federation of Medical Students (IFMSA), organized two, four-week sessions of clinical rotations for visiting student Mohamad Assayuri.

Assayuri, a Jordanian medical student from the Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, arrived in Athens Aug. 9, after about six months of correspondence and planning with the OU-COM students. He is a sixth-year student at his university, which requires three years of basic medical knowledge and three years of clinical training with no undergraduate education. Before graduating, all students at his school are required to spend four weeks studying outside of their country, a practice he believes is very important in medical training.

“The medical doctor should know a lot of things, not just the medical field,” said Assayuri. “Because, when you deal with a patient, you don’t deal with an object. You deal with a human that has thinking and other things to consider. When you have a lot of social activities you get more ideas to know how he is thinking and you can approach him better than if you just concentrate on medical.”

During his first clinical rotations in Athens Assayuri worked with geriatric and internal medicine physicians at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital. His second set of rotations included cardiology, dermatology and emergency medicine at O’Bleness.

Nora Burns, OMS IV, began developing the program in 2009 during her second year at OU-COM as a way to provide her fellow students more opportunities for cultural exchange. After hearing about the program through AMSA, she attended a day-long training session, organized a student petition, and completed the necessary paperwork to start the program at OU-COM.

“Not only are students getting the opportunity to experience another country, but it also offers the opportunity for foreign students to come here,” Burns said. “And that’s something that’s very important to me because we send so many students on really amazing trips, but we haven’t taken any international students in. This is the first time we’ve ever had an international exchange student here in OU-COM.”

Burns added that the program also allows OU-COM students to experience working with medical students from other countries.

Gillian Ice, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of OU-COM’s Global Health Programs and facilitator of the student-run program, provided support through funding and administrative assistance for the students involved.

“Going abroad is an invaluable experience for students,” Ice said. “They learn a lot about clinical skills and get used to working with different technologies. We teach students in lectures about cross-cultural skills, but it is all abstract. When they actually experience it themselves, they really learn a lot to bring back to the U.S. with them.”

Since the program began, leadership has been passed to other OU-COM students who want to encourage global learning. Sara Thorp, OMS II; Lindsay Westrick, OMS II; and Bridget Schoeny, OMS II, who was Assayuri’s main contact, took over the program when Burns left Athens for clinical rotations WHERE. Since then, Diane Lui, OMS II; Brian Sammon, OMS II; and Paul El-Dahdah, OMS II, have also become program organizers.

“When students get to be with someone from a different culture, they learn from each other and discover different ways to approach their work,” said Ice. “Not all students can go abroad. Bringing exchange students in still gives them a cross-cultural experience.”

Assayuri stayed with the family of Robert Woodworth, D.O., MPH, associate professor of preventive medicine and public health, who helped Assayuri with such things as opening a bank account and arranging a cell phone for him. In between his sets of rotations, he visited Las Vegas to see more of the country.

Assayuri left Athens to return to Jerusalem at the end of October and took with him a new understanding of not just the American health care system with medical students he describes as more confident, but also of America’s diversity as a country.

“People think that America is all like Manhattan and New York and they don’t think there is this distribution of geographic variety where some places are cold and some are hot,” he said. “And a lot of Americans don’t know the situation in the Middle East. And that’s why you should go, in order to know the situation and see a different way of thinking… There is no school that gives their students the perfect ideas. They should say ‘go there and gain that experience that we can’t give you’.”

OU-COM students like Katie Jones, OMS IV, who is scheduled to travel to Chile next year, have already begun applying and planning for international trips during the spring. To participate in the program, students usually apply during their second or third year and write a series of short essays, which are evaluated by a committee of AMSA/IFMSA members.

For information about the program, including on how to apply, contact Ice at 593-2128, or

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