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School of Medicine looking to build bridges with Chinese institutions

For the past two weeks, a delegation from Hebei Medical University in Hebei, China, has been taking in the medical education and health care systems at work in the United States.

Their case study in this exercise has been the Creighton University School of Medicine where, among other things, the Chinese students are looking at how a relatively smaller academic medical center treats patients and helps future doctors learn more about that treatment.

“We’ve found that many of the students at Creighton would like to know something about the history and the processes of the Chinese health care system and the system of medical education,” said Lily Shang, MD, a professor at Hebei Medical University accompanying the eight visiting students on this exchange trip. “They want to know who goes to medical school and why and for how long and what kinds of opportunities there are for different kinds of doctors.”

In this, the second year for the medical exchange, Creighton is optimistic bridges are being built for students in Omaha to venture across the Pacific and witness firsthand the workings of the Chinese system.

Don Frey, MD, a professor in family medicine in the School of Medicine who has traveled to China with Creighton contingents before, said the growing ties between the University and institutions in China make conditions ripe for an effort at developing a Creighton-led center in the country, similar to what the University has built in its Institute for Latin American Concern in the Dominican Republic.

“We would like to see more exchanges,” Frey said. “More students from China coming to Creighton, and Creighton students going to Hebei. We’d like to see collaboration on research projects and an exchange of ideas in medical innovation and education. These students in medical school right now are the future leaders in both of their respective countries and we’ve seen that the future is invested in international collaboration. The earlier we can start that process, the greater effect we can have in bettering the world.”

On July 27, the patient population at Creighton University Medical Center was 91. Between the five hospitals comprising the Hebei campus, the number of occupied beds runs closer to 5,000. In sheer numbers, the greater patient load means more immediate interaction for medical students in China, something the visitors said might be a benefit for their American counterparts.

“One thing I have noticed is that medical students in the U.S. are more independent as students,” said Botong Zhang, one of the student from Hebei. “The doctors are able to teach them very well and with much care. But the students don’t get to see many patients right away. I think if they came to China and saw how we meet with a number of patients, it would be a good experience.”

For the Chinese students, that independence and the ebb and flow of student-instructor dialogue witnessed in their time at Creighton was notable. The visitors were also afforded an opportunity to structure a presentation on aspects of Chinese culture, education and history for their hosts.

“It’s rare in China to have such an opportunity to talk with professors and to give presentations,” student Xinting Liang said.

Other differences of which the students took note were the variety of diseases treated in the U.S., that are not as prevalent in China.

They were also intrigued by the American emphasis on wellness and the focus on caregivers’ physical, mental and emotional health.

“There are flyers all over the hospital and in public places on how to prevent heart disease and other illnesses,” Shang said. “More patient education is something we would like to move toward in China. We were also glad to see a support system for the doctors. The idea of protecting yourself first before treating the patient is a very good one. You find balance and realize that you don’t have to be always working. We have a saying in China: ‘You don’t drain the river to fish.’”

Going forward, Frey said he is optimistic more chances will arise for Creighton and Chinese students and faculty to interact and learn from one another.

The intensity of medical education, he said, can be such that exchange trips aren’t always possible, but with the creation of an institute or program aimed at collaboration between Creighton and Chinese medical universities, the idea might take root.

“The question is: can we develop a concept to allow Creighton students to spend some time in China?” he said. “With the way that the world is working and moving toward more international collaboration and understanding, I think it’s something we need to think very seriously about doing.”

Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.