Even before ground had been broken on the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, the school’s core administrative team was already planning ways for its future students to add a global perspective to their studies.

“The millennial generation tends to be globally aware,” said Dr. Cynda Johnson, dean of the school. “We were—and still are—committed to offering our students the chance to broaden their thinking about future research and practice internationally.”

But there was another commitment to which the founding group wanted to stay true: offering global health care experiences but offering them with ties back to the local community. This was an appropriate caveat for this new school that was about to open its doors to its first students as well as to the community through a steady stream of educational and cultural outreach activities.

“We wanted the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine to be the Roanoke Valley’s medical school in every sense of the word,” said Dr. David Trinkle, associate dean for community and culture. “By promoting international programs and experiences that had roots locally, we would create opportunities for pre- and post-travel learning and continuity.”

The school’s students have an option to serve and learn in an international setting as part of their fourth-year clinical rotations. Currently, they may select from among four established partnerships with hospitals and medical education programs in France, India, Russia, and South Korea.

The Sister City Connection

When setting up the international rotation programs, school officials looked to Roanoke’s Sister Cities as potential sites, further strengthening these cultural relationships. Two of the locations – Wonju, South Korea, and Saint-Lô, France – already have longstanding Sister City agreements with Roanoke. The program in Kazan, Russia is located in a region near another Sister City, Pskov.

Roanoke has seven sister cities in four continents. The mission of the organization is to “advance peace and prosperity through cultural, educational, humanitarian, and economic development exchanges.” Most of Roanoke's sister city programs were started by Roanoke physicians in collaboration with physicians from the sister cities, having met during World War II or their own mission work decades ago.

Perhaps one of Roanoke’s most well-known sister city partnerships is with Wonju, South Korea. Establishing a medical student exchange was a natural progression to this already well-established connection. Students who choose this rotation site are based at Yosei University Wonju College of Medicine, a large, urban school with programs in premedicine, medicine, nursing, and dental hygiene. The institution has 150 full-time faculty members and is affiliated with Wonju Christian Hospital, a modern, state-of-the-art facility. Students can elect to focus on a specific subspecialty or rotate through two subspecialties of interest during their four weeks abroad.

Wonju, located in the north central part of the country, has a population approaching half a million people.

“It’s an urban city with its share of urban socio-economic issues such as poverty and health care disparities,” Trinkle said. “Our students gain experience with medical issues typically seen in this type of environment.”

Two Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine students traveled to Wonju this year, and a student from Wonju did an exchange with Carilion Clinic. JongWook Oh, a 24-year-old medical student, spent two weeks with Dr. Franco Coniglione in orthopaedics and two weeks with Dr. Edmundo Rubio in pulmonary medicine in what he called, "an opportunity of a lifetime."

Located in the quaint, historic town of Saint-Lô (population 20,000), the Memorial Hospital opened in 1956 and was declared “the most modern hospital in Europe.” It was built and is still partially funded by money from the United States as part of reparations as a result of accidental friendly fire on the city during the D-Day invasion. Numerous visits between Saint-Lô and Roanoke have taken place in recent years. Establishing a medical connection between the two cities was a natural progression.

“Memorial hospital is closely tied with its local community,” Trinkle said. “It has a full-range of specialties, including emergency medicine, but the slower, more relaxed pace is much different than what most of our students are accustomed to.”

One student from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine traveled to Saint-Lô last fall. Trinkle said the student was able to work with the hospital's emergency department to do home visits around the city, a practice designed to keep people out of the hospital, at home, and in good health.

Standardized patients in Russia

The third international rotation site is Kazan, Russia. The partnership with Kazan State Medical School was born out of work done by Heidi Lane, senior director of evaluation and assessment, to establish Russia’s first standardized patient program there. Lane, who oversees the standardized patient program at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has been working with her Russian counterparts for the past decade and was recognized for her efforts last year when Kazan State Medical University made her an honorary professor.

Kazan State is a sprawling medical school with an enrollment of 400 students and training offered in an array of specialties typically seen in a tertiary hospital: traumatology, neurology, infectious diseases, to name a few.

Rural medicine in Mungeli, India

Christian Hospital Mungeli is the most rural of the four established exchange programs. Founded in 1897, it is a 120-bed hospital that provides a broad spectrum of medical services, including cardiology, rheumatology, and various surgical specialties. A cancer unit under construction will provide new avenues of chemotherapy treatment. But for the most part, students who choose this site will observe much less modern hospital care and medical treatment than students at the other three exchange sites.

Two students traveled to Mungeli last year, and four students are there this spring.

“Each of our exchange locations represents a unique opportunity,” Trinkle said. “Students will be exposed to differences in health care delivery, communication norms, working as part of a health care team, and the availability of resources. They can then take these practical and enriching experiences into their clinical practice.”

Written by Catherine Doss