Abdulsalam Aleid, a medical student at King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia, has hopes of one day pursuing postgraduate studies in the United States. With the help of the George Washington University (GW) Office of International Medicine Programs (IMP), he has a much greater understanding of the U.S. health care and medical education systems, making him more prepared than ever for an education in the United States.
Aleid gained this new understanding by participating in IMP’s Summer Research and Medical Enrichment Program (SRMP). While the program usually brings international students to the Foggy Bottom Campus for in-person activities, because of the COVID-19 pandemic the program was moved online.
This summer’s program accepted nine medical students from universities in the Bahamas, Barbados, Ecuador, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea.
Whether in person or virtual, however, the program’s goals remain: familiarizing international medical students with the U.S. medical education, research, and health care systems. IMP also provides students with activities designed to enhance their research and communication skills, and offers individualized academic and professional advisement, counseling, and preparation.
“This program gives you the perfect map and alternative possible options for your future,” Aleid said. “It was a wonderful experience, rich in knowledge and fun.”
Genevieve McKenna, program manager at IMP, was instrumental in moving SRMP online. She ensured that despite different time zones, the students were able to attend the lectures and get the help and guidance they needed. Lectures and discussions were facilitated through WebEx video sessions, allowing the students to meet and talk in real-time with faculty members and mentors, McKenna said.
Jeffrey Bethony, PhD, professor of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine at SMHS, and Stanley Knoll, MD, clinical professor of surgery and medical director of IMP, serve as faculty experts for the program and primary mentors to the students.
McKenna said that through the Blackboard online education system IMP added new aspects to the program such as readings, discussion posts, and PowerPoint slides full of information.
The program, she added, focused more heavily on professional development this summer, since some of the more clinical aspects weren’t as easy to replicate remotely. “We took from the in-person program activities like a lecture on post-graduate opportunities and mock interviews, and then we added cover letter and personal statement sessions, with the students receiving individualized feedback on those projects.
“I get energized by the students’ enthusiasm for it, and it is harder to gauge their enthusiasm online, but when they are engaged it’s really exciting and all worth it,” she said.
In addition to the WebEx sessions, students also developed research proposals. While the course doesn’t allow enough time to conduct the research itself, McKenna said, developing a proposal is key to helping students understand what goes into a scientific study.
“With this, they’re learning the skills to develop their own study idea, their own methodology, and what limitations there might be. They have to think about real-world issues: Is it feasible? Can you get the right study population? It gives them insight into how research is conducted in the U.S.,” McKenna explained.
That aspect of the program is what led Kristina Nasr to apply.
“I’m hoping to become a physician-scientist and pursue residency in the U.S., and to do that I have to publish research during my medical years,” she said. “In addition, I wanted to establish networks with physicians, scientists, and program directors. … After finishing the program, I am very confident to work on a research paper with minimal guidance, and I have formed good connections with everyone, including my colleagues.”
Nasr has three years of medical school still ahead of her, but said she is excited to put what she learned this summer into action. “I believe that I have a more concrete plan when it comes to pursuing residency in the U.S. after taking this program,” she said.