During its 20 year history, the Office of International Medicine Programs (IMP) at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) has collaborated with more than 90 partners in more than 50 countries. In 2010, IMP signed a letter of agreement with CEU-San Pablo University School of Medicine (USP) in Madrid, Spain to offer clinical electives, summer internships, and special projects for SMHS and USP medical students. With the help of Fernando Vidal-Vanaclocha, M.D., Ph.D., professor of human histology and cell biology and vice dean for research and international affairs, the collaboration has proven to be valuable to both the SMHS and USP communities in encouraging mutual learning and exchange. Vidal-Vanaclocha worked with Huda Ayas, Ed.D. ’06, MBA ’98, M.H.S.A. ’93, associate dean of international medicine and executive director of the Office of International Medicine Programs to create a translational research rotation and internship program for SMHS students — the first of its kind to be offered internationally to GW students. Additionally, Vidal-Vanaclocha serves as a mentor to students in the SMHS global health track, providing general guidance as students pursue their academic and professional goals in global health.
IMP recently had the opportunity to interview Vidal-Vanaclocha during one of his many trips to Washington, D.C. Below is what he had to say.
1. What attracted you to work with GW and the Office of International Medicine Programs?
GW is an internationally recognized university that commits to the well-being of not only the domestic community, but also the international community. I had been familiar with the university, but I heard about IMP through word-of-mouth while I was a member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and became interested in what I learned. I love the office’s acceptance of international students and the variety of cultures and backgrounds that IMP affiliates with. IMP offers students an excellent way to expose themselves to diverse sets of people and to the unique clinical challenges of different regions. When I met Dr. Huda Ayas, she immediately struck me as an open-minded and intelligent person who likes to make the impossible possible. This is a characteristic that binds us together.
2. What do you value most in your role as both a global health track mentor and IMP affiliate?
As a mentor and partner, I love being able to offer assistance and advise my mentees in the global health track program. I enjoy working with GW students and watching their growth and achievements. I enjoy meeting passionate students and discussing their futures with them. I also enjoy helping students who decide to travel to Spain during medical school. When students travel to Spain, I explain to them what to expect and I discuss culture, lodging, transportation, people, activities, program details, and much more.
Additionally, I would like to further develop USP and GW’s partnership. I have numerous ideas for expanding our partnership, such as introducing a double-degree option for students.
3. In what ways has the partnership with the Office of International Medicine Programs benefited San Pablo University?
The opportunity to do a clinical elective at GW has been a great incentive for our students to advance their education through an overseas experience in the United States. USP students are curious about GW’s medical school, the process of attaining a medical degree in the U.S., and the culture of U.S. medical students. It is an excellent opportunity for USP students to gain valuable knowledge and connect with American culture on a personal level. This opportunity has been very beneficial for our students.
4. Can you describe how the Translational Research Elective program has contributed to the development of both GW medical students and the students of San Pablo University? What are the program’s prospects for growth and advancement?
The Translational Research Elective program has certainly been beneficial to USP students. One of the greatest advantages we have experienced is that our program in Spain has diversified due to our partnership agreement. This is the only university that has introduced the translational program and we are fortunate to experience such an enriching opportunity for our university and students.
In addition, our partnership with GW has created a bilingual program. The addition of GW students has allowed our professors to teach their programs in English as well. The bilingual characteristic of the program sets it apart from others at USP. Additionally, we offer a summer course in translational medicine in English.
5. Overall, how successful would you say the translational program has been?
Currently, we receive more students from GW than from any other university. In the last three years, more than 10 students have enrolled in the program, and all of them have been quite impressive. This, in turn, has increased our medical students’ interest in pursuing clinical elective opportunities at GW. It has actually piqued the interest of so many students that we have more students interested in going to GW than the number of spots available. Nonetheless, we continue to encourage all students to seize this enriching opportunity. It is a fascinating educational and personal development experience for young medical students. We encourage them to harness this opportunity to travel, understand different cultures, different people, different medical practices, different types of medical difficulties, and more. Nowadays, I find that there is a large discrepancy between the knowledge our youth attains from the internet and what they learn through first-hand experiences. The youth are resourceful and resilient. Traveling should be considered among their utmost priorities. Only through travel and the education of our youth can we alter our future. We can build a generation of understanding, peace, prosperous health, and a wealth of shared knowledge.