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Studying medicine in Israel is not always what you would expect

With its huge variety of languages and cultures, studying International health in Israel is a global health experience in itself

Students from the Medical School for International Health (MSIH) Class of 2019 at Soroka Medical Center
Students from the Medical School for International Health (MSIH) Class of 2019 at Soroka Medical Center

“Does anyone speak Russian?” a nurse called urgently in Hebrew from down the corridor. Third-year medical student Aaron Zimmerman didn’t expect this to be the first phrase he heard at the beginning of clinical training at the Medical School for International Health (MSIH), an English-taught medical school at Ben-Gurion University. By the end of the day he had discovered that “Does anyone speak [insert language]?” was a hospital catchphrase, symbolizing perfectly his reasons for uprooting himself from his native New York to study medicine at the MSIH.

Sunny outlook on International Health (Photo: MSIH)

Zimmerman, like nearly 700 students before him, chose MSIH because of the unique medical education the program offers. The only school of its kind in the world, MSIH has Global Health studies woven into the fabric of the four-year American-style medical school curriculum.

“We’re probably one of Israel’s best-kept secrets,” says Dr. Mark Clarfield, the director of MSIH, a professor of Geriatrics, and a native Canadian. “In twenty years we’ve graduated more than 550 international physicians – and today they make a huge contribution to health around the world. They have worked in Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, Botswana, Haiti, Tanzania, Kenya, Angola, Uganda, Liberia, Jordan, Chad, and many more resource-scarce countries. About thirty of our graduates stayed in Israel as doctors in our hospitals.”

Students studying Anatomy between classes (Courtesy MSIH)

MSIH, established in 1998, graduated its 16th cohort of Global Health MDs in May 2017. Most students at MSIH are from North America, but others hail from Columbia, England, China, Switzerland, France, Korea, the Netherlands, Ghana, Australia, the Philippines and Japan.

Similar to the US system, students must have completed pre-medical course work to enter MSIH. Classes are small and intimate with about 30-35 students – creating a friendly learning environment where students study together in teams.

All four years of study at MSIH incorporate elements of Global Health. In first year, in addition to regular basic sciences, all students take a 42-hour introductory Global Health course. Second year – which includes simulated cross-cultural encounters – trains students to study a foreign country’s health system. All students also take four 12-hour modules on topical matters relating to Global Health, like migrant health, the impact of the Zika virus, and disaster medicine.

The fourth and final year includes an eight-week international clinical clerkship at the School’s partner institutions in resource-poor countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Ethiopia, Ghana, the Philippines, and a number of others.

“Studying medicine in Israel with its huge variety of languages and cultures is a global health experience in itself,” concludes Zimmerman. “Add to that the academic material presented by MSIH and you can’t get a better medical global health training anywhere in the world.”

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