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First Cohort of Herbert Shainberg Scholars Arrive in Israel

Macy Cottrell (left) and Colbe Earles, fourth-year UTHSC College of Medicine Students, boarding their flight for a month at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

The first cohort of the Herbert Shainberg Scholars Program have officially arrived in Israel. Colbe Earles and Macy Cottrell are studying at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev during March as part of the new student exchange program that gives fourth-year students in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Medicine an opportunity to learn about the cultural, ethnic, and religious aspects of health care.

“Because it’s a multicultural university, BGU Medical School for International Health provides a unique perspective throughout students’ entire education, which is what makes it so special,” said Nia Zalamea, MD, assistant professor of surgery, director of the UTHSC Global Surgery Institute, associate director of the UTHSC Center for Multicultural and Global Health, and director of the Shainberg Scholars Program.

“The program is housed within the Center for Multicultural and Global Health (CMGH) in the UTHSC College of Medicine. The CMGH was created with the intention of better understanding people from other cultures, whether in Memphis or abroad.”

To understand the significance of the Herbert Shainberg Scholars Program, it’s important to first understand the history of the name.

Herbert Shainberg was featured in The UTCHS Record (the former UTHSC newspaper) in 1979 for his philanthropy work.

Herbert Shainberg was a Memphis businessman who owned a department store on Main Street in Downtown Memphis. His grandchildren, Jill, Stuart, and Craig Lazarov would visit their grandfather there, often heading to nearby Dyer’s Burgers to enjoy a meal together.

“Because restaurants were still segregated then, Dyer’s had a Black entrance and a white entrance. Mr. Shainberg, although not Black, quietly took his grandchildren through the Black entrance each time, and then sat in the Black section of the restaurant,” said Dr. Zalamea.

“This was his way of teaching his grandchildren about racism, fairness, justice, the difference between right and wrong, and one of the many ways he demonstrated the importance of being kind.”

That spirit is what inspired the Shainberg Scholars Program.

The program came to life when Scott Strome, MD, Robert Kaplan Executive Dean of the UTHSC College of Medicine and vice chancellor for Health Affairs, connected with Mr. Shainberg’s grandchildren. Jill Lazarov Notowich, Stuart Lazarov, MD, and Craig Lazarov, JD, wanted an impactful way to honor their grandfather, and UTHSC’s partnership with BGU created the perfect opportunity.

“We are so excited and delighted to initiate this student exchange program in Israel,” said Dr. Strome. “The program is named in honor of Mr. Herbert Shainberg, whose legacy of humanism lives on through each of these scholars. It is our profound belief that this exchange will enrich the lives of both our trainees and their hosts, while broadening ties between our two universities.”

Both Earles and Cottrell underwent a rigorous selection process that lasted from June through November 2020, including a written application, a personal essay, and interviews with a selection committee.

Dr. Nia Zalamea

“Our selection committee, which included UTHSC faculty and the (College of Medicine’s) Board of Visitors, asked critical questions and were as objective as possible,” Dr. Zalamea said. “There were three rounds of selection, each one about two hours. We really wanted to learn about the students’ motivation for being part of this first cohort and to capture the spirit of the program.”

Earles, who plans to go into family medicine, believes the experience will provide him with a unique perspective as he begins his career as a physician.

“I imagine a country halfway across the world does things differently than us. I think seeing how other countries and cultures practice medicine helps us improve how we practice back home, and I hope to take some of those things with me as I move into residency,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in global health. It’s why I wanted to become a doctor, and I’m excited to be here learning more about it.”

Cottrell grew up going on medical mission trips to Central America, which is where she fell in love with medicine and learning about different cultures. In 2015, she spent a short time studying in Israel. “Being there showed me how strong and how determined its citizens are. It’s unlike any other place I’ve seen. Because of these qualities, technical advancement, and deeply rooted culture, I’m excited to spend more time in Israel and with its people, learning from and with them,” she said.

“The more people I meet who are unlike myself, the greater perspective I gain on the world around me. I want to continue to challenge myself to seek differing opinions and beliefs, to immerse myself in cultures unlike the one I grew up in, and to befriend others not because we have similar understandings but because we share a desire to understand one another. As physicians, I think it’s important to be able to empathize with vastly different groups and I hope this helps me grow in my ability to do so.”

Cottrell and Earles in Israel

The cohort will grow in the coming years, eventually including up to 10 medical students from both universities. As the relationship between UTHSC and BGU continues to develop, students from Memphis will eventually be able to access BGU’s international sites, including Sri Lanka and Tanzania, and BGU students will have access to UTHSC’s campuses throughout Tennessee.

“We had a committee of UTHSC College of Medicine students that developed the curriculum for the BGU students when they come to Memphis,” said Dr. Zalamea. “It includes lectures, field trips, and projects. We also have a team of faculty who make up the curriculum development team, and of course our administrative team that helps us with everything. It’s been a real team effort from multiple parties who have been very generous and engaged with their time.”

The UTHSC College of Medicine believes that engaging in multicultural health care isn’t just important, but vital for practicing medicine in the United States.

“Our multicultural neighbors are right next to us. And even though we’re teachers, we’re still learners. It takes us to extract ourselves from our comfortable setting to begin to understand cultures different from our own. Sometimes we must go elsewhere to redevelop and recharge our empathy and understanding, especially in health care,” said Dr. Zalamea.

“What happens in Israel affects us in Memphis. What happens in Memphis affects Israel. It’s too small of a world, especially in health care, to pretend that we can solve our problems in an insular way. We can learn lessons elsewhere and bring them back home to benefit our local community.”

Earles and Cottrell return on March 31. Their month abroad will culminate in Memphis with a reception with the Lazarov/Shainberg family and the program selection committee, where they will share their experiences as the first of many cohorts of the Herbert Shainberg Scholars Program.