Study Away Experience Reinvigorates Medical Student
The 2019 trip proved to be a rich cultural experience, complete with the type of educational moments and cross-cultural challenges that populate glossy study abroad brochures. It exceeded my expectations of any sort of international medical school experience.
My interest in visiting Israel was multifold. I have a background and strong academic interest in military medicine and mass casualty response preparedness, and Israel remains at the leading edge of these fields. Israel’s geopolitical location and existential threat—combined with its elite academics and investment in defense and innovation—make it a global leader in military medicine and mass casualty response. I could think of no place better to study these fields.
Additionally, I have spent time in the Middle East (both in Israel and the Arab world) before attending Sidney Kimmel Medical College and developed a love for the region. Many Americans know little about the Middle East besides occasional news coverage of war-torn areas and political unrest, yet it remains a much more complicated and nuanced constellation of nations and cultures steeped with diverse traditions. I’ve always been drawn to this cultural kaleidoscope and wanted to go back and explore it through a medical lens.
In a single moment in the ER, I watched generations of conflict disregarded in the face of delivering medical care.
All of this led me to Dr. Zvi Grunwald, professor and emeritus chair of anesthesiology at Jefferson and director of the Jefferson Israel Center. In addition to his prestigious titles, Dr. Grunwald also is a native Israeli and among the most kind-hearted, encouraging physicians I have met. He’s the special sort of educator with whom a student can say, “I want to shoot for the moon,” to which he responds, “But why stop there? What about Mars too?”
Dr. Grunwald quickly identified educational opportunities for me in Israel to explore military medicine and mass casualty response. Before I knew it, I left for Jerusalem to study at Tzameret (tree top in Hebrew), the Institute for Research in Military Medicine, a joint venture between Hebrew University’s Hadassah School of Medicine, Jerusalem and the Israeli Defense Forces Medical Corps.
Once there, I participated in many unique research opportunities and gained clinical exposure in the emergency department at Hadassah Medical Center. On one memorable occasion, I was working with an Arab Israeli emergency medicine resident while treating an elderly Orthodox Jewish man with a suspected life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
The man was severely dehydrated, and none of the nurses could put in an IV, so the resident stepped in to try. The patient was in extreme pain, sweating profusely and clearly ill. His Orthodox family gathered by the ER bay, anxiously looking on while the Arab resident punctured the patient’s arm, attempting and failing to place the line.
The resident swore under his breath in Arabic, and I saw the patient’s family become more uneasy. After the resident tried and failed again, he now was sweating, and the patient’s pain had visibly increased.
The patient’s family members circled the bed, and I grew concerned. Would they yell at the Arab resident for continuing to cause the patient pain and failing to place the line? Would they demand a Jewish resident instead?
Instead, they began chanting together in Hebrew, reciting blessings for both the well-being of their loved one and the success of the resident treating him. The resident took a deep breath, and his shoulders loosened. After another two tries, he succeeded, and the patient’s relatives cheered, gripping the resident’s hands in thanks and admiration.
Moments like this in Israel assure me I’ve chosen the right path.
I’ve never experienced anything like this before. In a single moment in the ER, I watched generations of conflict disregarded in the face of delivering medical care.
I think of this memory often now as a fourth-year medical student and applicant for emergency medicine residency programs. Medical school has been difficult, and residency surely will be too. With hurdle after hurdle of requirements, exams, evaluations and grueling hours, I sometimes want to throw in the towel.
However, moments like this in Israel assure me I’ve chosen the right career, and ultimately, this path can be one of humanity and compassion that knows no borders.