For Monica Ogunsusi and Aditya Shah, studying medicine internationally is not only a special experience, but one that also elevates their future careers in medicine and global health care.
“The Ben-Gurion Multicultural Health elective offered the opportunity to be educated from Israeli physicians, form professional connections, and created the space for an enriching cultural experience,” said Ogunsusi.
The Center for Multicultural and Global Health in the UTHSC College of Medicine, established the Herbert Shainberg Scholars Program, in partnership with the Medical School for International Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel, that offers fourth-year medical students a month-long opportunity to enhance their education in global health. Ogunsusi and Shah were selected and recently studied at BGU.
“This experience cemented my understanding that the delivery of health care is on a one-to-one basis, in terms of the physician and the patient and the patient’s family,” Shah said. “However, we should not forget that health care is also delivered on a global scale, and collaboration across time zones, cultures, and languages is critical to the future of medicine and essential to how I want to practice medicine.”
The scholars received education from BGU’s faculty, traveled with students from BGU to multiple cities in Israel, and conducted clinical rotations in Nephrology with BGU’s Medical School for International Health through their clinical site at Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital.
“It is a great opportunity for students to experience another culture via the lens of medicine, and it is really unique because we have a close relationship with BGU and we’re very like-minded,” said Nia Zalamea, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Surgery and director of the Global Surgery Institute. “It is a university that was founded with the purpose of providing a multicultural experience from day one, and it’s not only the multicultural aspect of being in another country, but also the multicultural aspect of the structure and culture of the health care system itself; how relationships differ within the system, and the difference in how people relate to the system as compared to the U.S.”
Ogunsusi, now a Spring 2023 graduate from the UTHSC College of Medicine, is pursuing Otolaryngology, a specialty focusing on the ears, nose and throat, and will begin residency at Duke University. She believes the program increased her motivation to learn a new language to better serve patients and elevated her continued appreciation for diverse perspectives.
“I was impressed by the many languages, varied backgrounds, and perspectives each member brought to the team. The benefit of cultural diversity on the team and in the hospital was apparent daily, as there was always someone near who could communicate and relate to the patient,” said Ogunsusi. “I am beyond grateful to the Shainberg and Lazarov families for their support of this program. My perspective on health care has significantly changed during my time rotating through the hospital and interactions with the many medical students and physicians I worked with.”
Her passion for community, service, and global health guided her to apply for the exchange program. “Before arriving to medical school, I always envisioned myself as a physician working with the Doctors Without Borders organization or something similar and I knew the opportunity in Israel, especially before residency, would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Shah, a former president of the UTHSC Global Surgery Institute’s Student Interest Group and the UTHSC Student Surgical Society, said it was eye-opening to work with a diverse patient population, and a privilege to learn from the faculty at BGU’s Medical School for International Health – many of whom obtained experiences and training in the U.S.
“It was very interesting to learn from their faculty because they were able to speak Hebrew and English, explain key concepts in nephrology, and discuss their culture and past experiences and how it shaped them into the doctors they are now,” said Shah.
It was his family legacy and his undergraduate experiences at the University of Miami, that led him into the medical field and increased his passion for global health.
“My parents and my grandmother were physicians, and my grandfather, who was an accountant, lived in Malaysia, Kenya, Switzerland, and India for his job, and his stories from his time abroad helped me develop an international perspective early on,” said Shah. “What also elevated my interest in global health was being exposed to many different cultures while studying in Miami, where I minored in Spanish and health sector management and policy, and learning about health care disparities not only in Miami but also globally.”
Shah also joined medical mission trips in the Guatemalan Highlands and the Peruvian Andes, where he served in mobile clinics and viewed different health care disparities. “To see how different health care access was in the Peruvian Andes where there may be one ambulance and hospital for thousands of people, and in the Guatemalan Highlands where there are certain disparities that we don’t see often in the United States, such as limited growth due to poor nutrition, opened my eyes to the importance of understanding global health.”
The program is named after Memphis businessman Herbert Shainberg, who owned a department store on Main Street in Downtown Memphis and was also recognized for his philanthropy. Shainberg’s grandchildren, Jill Lazarov Notowich, Stuart Lazarov, MD, and Craig Lazarov, JD, connected with the UTHSC College of Medicine to honor their grandfather. The first cohort of the program studied at BGU in March 2022. The Center for Multicultural and Global Health’s mission is to leverage institutional relationships to expand student, resident, and faculty access to multicultural health delivery, address global health challenges, and nurture the next generation of global health leaders.
“He was a businessman with a contemporary way of seeking to create a more just world on a daily basis and was very interested in integration before others were comfortable even thinking or talking about racial integration,” said Dr. Zalamea. “The selection process for this program is centered around this, it’s around the students’ persona, life goals, professional development and character building, and what differs between a person who’s not engaged socially versus a surgeon who is and seeks to see the things that can be changed for the better.”
In addition to engaging in a different clinical atmosphere, the scholars visited multiple cities and participated in various cultural events, including Israel’s 75th Independence Day, and were invited to hear stories from the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and to memorial services on Yom Ha’Zikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, in remembrance of fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.
Now, Shah has also graduated and matched to the University of Iowa for residency in General Surgery and said his experience as a medical student has helped prepare him for the experiences within the exchange program.
“We are very fortunate here, not only at UTHSC, but also in the Memphis community, that there is a strong sense of philanthropic giving,” Shah said. “Warren Buffet once said, ‘someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago,’ and we are sitting in the shade of the tree that Herbert Shainberg and the members of the Shainberg and Lazarov families planted by creating this opportunity.”