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Specialized medical education crisscrossing the Atlantic
by Elizabeth Willoughby

Univercity of Cincinnati College of Medicing (UCCOM), USANearly as old as the Munich-Cincinnati-Sister-City document, LMU's Faculty of Medicine and the University of Cincinnati's College of Medicine (UCCOM) used the cities' 25th anniversary of twinning to extend their own 18-year exchange agreement for another three years.

Transatlantic exchange programs in medicine are a rarity due to the different curricula and high cost of medical studies, yet where others have failed, LMU-UCCOM's has survived. Created in 1996, the agreement allows medical students to do some of their rotations at the partner institution. The two-month placement is for selected LMU students in their last year of Internal Medicine or Pediatrics, with an additional two months in another location such as Cornell or Edmonton. Cincinnati students can participate in an English-taught winter school, with topics such as Oncology and Neurology, seeing patients with a study buddy who acts as translator.

Prof. Kathy Wedig-Stevie, MD, so supportive of the program that she often accommodates students in her own home, is the program coordinator at UCCOM. "Although the practice of medicine is similar in developed countries," she says, "there are some differences that can be learned, such as how doctors operate in hospitals vs in private practices, the use of electronic records and how to manage students doing social work referrals. Additionally, German and American customs vary and it is extremely important to realize those cultural differences."

Prof. Genzel-Boroviczény, Head of the LMU Division of Neonatology at Innenstad Campus, supervises the program at LMU. Another key person committed to the success of the exchange, Dr. Genzel ensures that LMU students are familiar with the US system before they leave. "Whereas in Germany even refugees are covered for basic healthcare, a significant portion of Americans, until 'Obamacare', has been under- or uninsured, which can result in late diagnoses and treatments, with more complications," she says. "Students must learn to see health and medicine in a global context."

A UCCOM experience

Ilona Baumann, now working in Dr. Genzel's neonatal division, studied under Dr. Wedig-Stevie in Cincinnati in 2012 as part of the exchange program. She learned the special care required for premature babies, including critical management therapy, nutrition schemes and drug doses adapted to their tiny bodies. She also gained experience in the care of former preterm children, often negatively affected by premature births, and designing treatment programs to foster neurological development. Forensic medicine, methods of case history, and intervention at a special unit caring for abused children was also part of her studies.

"At UCCOM residents rotate more frequently so they see each specialty several times in the different stages of their education," says Dr. Baumann. "The exchange was a great possibility to learn from another system."

Feeling enriched by the experience, Dr. Baumann began what is now a monthly meet-up in Munich to keep the connections going after one's exchange has ended. A recent Cincy-Stammtisch this year saw 90 people attend, including the Mayor of Cincinnati.

At LMU

Set up as a mobility agreement rather than one-to-one exchange, in the last two years, 12 students have gone from LMU to UC, but only three from UCCOM have gone to LMU. Dr. Wedig-Stevie would like to see more UC students take advantage of the exchange between the two medical schools. She believes the American students thinking about international healthcare experience hesitate about going to Germany because they don't speak German.

"But most of the medical personnel in Munich speak English," she says, "and Dr. Genzel goes out of her way to find LMU students who can act as interpreters so that the UCCOM students have a good experience."

Dr. Baumann would also like to see more participation. "I hope that more people dare to take part in the exchange. They can't imagine the possibilities that come from it."

Originally published at insightLMU, September, 2015

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