What medical students take for a mind altering experience
by Elizabeth Willoughby
With the goal of producing physicians capable of handling challenges posed by globalization, social change and scientific development, MeCuM (Medical Curriculum Munich) and its LMUexchange Brazil program is immersing German medical students into Brazilian classrooms and hospitals.
Challenged by both language and culture, students have found the exchange to be one of their best life experiences, and thus far in their education deem it the most effective way of opening one's mind to the other and to developing tolerance within the self.
Katharina Grandl arrived in Curitiba, Brazil last August for two months of practical training, an opportunity available to 10 final-year medical students each year. Despite having only a basic level of Portuguese, she says, "From the beginning the doctors and fellow students on our ward were welcoming and open-minded. Their supportive attitude impressed me deeply, as well as their pragmatic way of dealing with stressful and demanding situations. There was a relaxed and positive climate among the people in the hospital, based on appreciation among patients, students and doctors."
A long term investment
Milena Auhagen, in her fifth year at LMU, returned this spring from a 13-month long exchange in João Pessoa in the northeast of Brazil and says she found her year attending Univesidade Federal de Paraíba inspirational both academically and personally. Her enthusiasm is palpable.
"My exchange with the UFPB was without a doubt a huge enrichment for me in many respects," says Milena. "I was surprised at how quickly I settled in and integrated at university. Coming from a school with 880 students suddenly to a much smaller, more personal setting, I got to know people quickly and they were like old friends whenever I needed a hand. The professors were also very helpful since they were aware of my initial linguistic deficit and didn't want me to be disadvantaged in the first exams."
Being in a developing country provides other things that can challenge one's sensibilities as well. Part of Milena's exchange was a 30-day internship at a maternity hospital. "Seeing the patients' meagre existence did make me despair," says Milena. "I was forced to reflect on these women and to realize that although the university I lived in was beautiful, it was only one piece of Brazil. I had to learn how to deal with these two realities. But at the same time, the smile of simplicity prevails in all classes of Brazilian society."
Science without borders
Through the Ciências sem Fronteiras program, just launched this year, MeCuM also brings recipients of Brazilian government scholarships to LMU for a year of study and research. These visiting students participate in Oncology Winter School preparatory courses, are each assigned a study buddy at the Faculty of Medicine, and take German language along with medical classes.
Mário Leite Vasconcelos arrived from Brasília in January for his year of study at LMU. He's learned to fend for himself even down to daily tasks such as meal preparation, a job for which he says even middle-class families in Brazil hire help. Most interesting to compare, however, are Brazil and Germany's healthcare systems, particularly in regards to fund allocation and the resulting quality of care and resources. Embracing the language and cultural challenges, Mário recommends the exchange to anyone with an open mind. Only half way through his year in Munich, he says, "I see the world differently now."
"A doctor should learn about different realities of medicine," says Milena. "In one of the poorest states of Brazil our Western European medical luxuries will not be found, but there is other rich and equally effective knowledge. The core of this exchange is the perfect combination of a well-structured but still different academic life and the incredibly diverse private life you can have there. As a future doctor it has brought me way further than if I'd spent the year in my own familiar system in Munich."
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