Joshua Cohen, M.D., vividly recalls a 2005 trip to Amman, Jordan, where he was teaching a multi-day Continuing Medical Education (CME) course on behalf of the Office of International Medicine Programs (IMP) at GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS).
“At the end of the program, a group of physicians came up to me to ask if we could have our picture taken together,” he recollects. “We started talking and I learned that these physicians were from Iraq. They had driven, in the midst of the Iraq conflict, from Baghdad to Amman specifically to participate in my program.”
Cohen, who is a professor of medicine at SMHS and interim director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the GW Medical Faculty Associates, has made more than a dozen trips to the Middle East over the past decade to teach CME courses. While each trip is unique, there is one commonality amongst his students regardless of where Cohen is teaching: “They are all eager for the opportunity to participate in an academically oriented post-graduate medical education program,” he says.
“They’re quite knowledgeable as practitioners,” Cohen continues, “and are eager for information about the most current clinical practice strategies and clinical research findings. Also, we all benefit from the opportunity to share our different perspectives on global health problems.” It is precisely this need that inspired IMP to establish its CME program 10 years ago to keep international health care professionals up-to-date with the latest advances in medicine and the changes in methods of delivery.
Janan Sarkis, M.P.H., director of international programs for IMP, manages the CME program, which has trained nearly 10,000 health care professionals from the Middle East, Asia, and Central America. “GW faculty participating in CME courses are exposed to new cultures, regions, and medical systems and their eyes are opened to the influence of social and cultural practices on the medical system in each country,” says Sarkis. “It also broadens their horizons as to how to deal with international patients seeking GW medical services.”
The majority of the nearly 150 CME courses conducted to date have taken place as live events in host countries, but IMP has also experimented with videoconferencing as a way to reach even more international practitioners seeking the American Continuing Medical Education credit the courses offer. Cohen, along with Richard Katz, M.D., Bloedorn Professor of Cardiology at SMHS and director of the GW Heart and Vascular Institute, Samir Patel, M.D., associate professor of medicine at SMHS, and Sabyasachi Sen, M.D., associate professor of medicine, recently conducted a videoconference series for practitioners in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The group led a four-session course on the comprehensive treatment of diabetes — a major health problem in the Middle East. “Teleconferencing simplifies the program logistics and is getting better as technology improves,” explains Cohen. “However, teleconferences may be less interactive than on-site programs and we need to devise ways to more actively involve participants in the programs.”
In 2006, Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, RESD ’85, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, vice president for health affairs, and dean of SMHS, participated in the CME program. As then chair of SMHS’s Department of Psychiatry, Akman traveled to Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, where he led a course that focused on diagnosing and managing depression in a primary care setting. “It presents a genuine challenge for physicians,” explains Akman, “to identify and address a problem that is so common, but which carries a great deal of stigma for patients and their families.” He recalls the experience as rewarding, and says that it “enhanced my cultural competence and my ability to relate to others.”
Cohen, who looks forward to continuing his involvement with the CME program, says it’s been a very positive experience for him. “It’s a great opportunity to develop relationships with physicians and institutions around the world,” he says. “It has certainly expanded my understanding of the impact of culture on medical care, and it’s fulfilling an important need for high-quality, academically oriented post-graduate education internationally.”