Health Care

August 19, 2014

Iraqi doctors visit UNC-Chapel Hill’s medical school

Five Iraqi doctors are in Chapel Hill this week to see what they can learn about teaching medicine to help bring their country’s medical schools up to international standards.

The five Iraqi doctors had come to UNC-Chapel Hill to experience new things about teaching medicine, and it’s a fair bet they had never heard someone say this while standing over a patient: “What’s nice is I can give him heart failure.”

Paramedic James Barrick then bragged that he could also force symptoms of traumatic brain injury, start bleeding or induce a host of other medical problems.

Thankfully Barrick was demonstrating an elaborate, quarter-million-dollar robotic patient named Stan, short for “standardized man,” in the medical school’s simulation center.

His audience Tuesday consisted of faculty members from Baghdad University College of Medicine. They are the first delegation of what could turn into a lasting relationship between the universities, with periodic exchanges of specialists, professors, medical students and postgraduate physicians, and perhaps shared research projects into some of Iraq’s endemic health issues.

The main thrust, funded by a $3 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, is to help the Iraqis bring their 23-school medical education system up to modern standards, use Baghdad University as a test program, then spread the results to the 22 other medical schools around the country.

Also involved in the program is the University of Nottingham in England and the volunteer International Medical Corps, which works to build health care capacity in countries where the medical system is substandard.

Dr. Benny Joyner, clinical director of the UNC medical school’s Clinical Skills and Patient Simulation Center , told them that “lower-fidelity” versions of the simulators cost much less and offered most of the functions their students needed.

But it’s crucial to think carefully about utility, and the cost of things like staff required to support expensive technology before succumbing to its allure, Joyner said.

That drew a quick nod of agreement from Hilal Bahjet Al-Saffar, a cardiologist who leads his college’s medical education unit.

“Right now, people in my country like expensive tools, expensive equipment,” Al-Saffar said. “But you have to look at how many faculty members and how many students would use it, and often if you examine these things later, you will find it’s not efficient.”

The group found the simulators and the medical school’s modern facilities interesting, and took notes and snapped photos. But they were hardly shocked. Many had studied overseas and worked with foreign doctors in Iraq and are generally familiar with the state of medicine in wealthier nations.

Al-Saffar, for example, is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and of Britain’s Royal College of Physicians.

The Iraqis were mainly interested in down-in-the-weeds practical matters, like the logic behind using a curve or not in grading, and how the school handles remedial work if a student doesn’t pass a specific “block” of learning.

On a tour of rooms under construction for a larger, more sophisticated simulation center, Dr. Shatha Farouk Abdullah asked Joyner how the faculty managed to coordinate the schedules of medical, pharmacy and nursing students for classes built around the increasingly popular team-based approach to patient care.

Afterward, in another set of rooms, eight cadavers zipped inside body bags scarcely warranted a glance. Dr. Huda Mahdi Darweesh Al-Khateeb was more interested in asking UNC medical school faculty members how students were graded on their scalpel work in that dissection lab.

The Iraqis will be here most of the week. On Tuesday, they sat in briefly on lectures for first- and second-year students, and received a presentation on the UNC medical school’s freshly-overhauled teaching structure from Kurt Gilliland, the school’s director of curriculum.

Al-Khateeb said much of what she saw would be helpful. The Iraq system is just now moving from a medical school education based mainly on raw knowledge to a form that also includes learning and honing crucial clinical skills and teamwork.

Her university has some rudimentary simulation tools, but even extremely basic versions of what UNC has would be a terrific aid in building those skills, she said.

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