Western Connecticut Health Network Establishes Global Health Education Program

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Humanitarian promotes global citizenship among future generations of physicians

“Medical students who work abroad come back with a level of skill and compassion that enables Western Connecticut Health Network to advance the quality of care we deliver to our community, both regionally and globally,” said Dr. Sadigh, an infectious dise

Uganda’s Makerere College of Health Sciences may be thousands of miles from Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN), yet the powerful lessons medical students experience while abroad raise the quality of care they bring to their practice of medicine at home.

“We must share the globe. We are all genetically related,” said Majid Sadigh, MD, the humanitarian and educator who joined WCHN as director of its new Global Health Education Program in conjunction with the University of Vermont College of Medicine. The global initiative expands WCHN’s medical education program internationally into established sites in Russia and Uganda, with plans to soon add new locations, including Cho Ray Hospital in Vietnam and a medical clinic in the Dominican Republic.
“Medical students who work abroad come back with a level of skill and compassion that enables Western Connecticut Health Network to advance the quality of care we deliver to our community, both regionally and globally,” said Dr. Sadigh, an infectious disease specialist and internist who has spent the last two decades establishing global health programs in resource-starved countries. “We learn as much from our colleagues overseas as they learn from us.”

Ramin Ahmadi, MD, chairman of Medical Education and Research at WCHN, said the global health program strengthens the network’s standing as a leading teaching and research institution and regional medical center. “Our commitment to medical education and research positively impacts patients because we’re able to attract the best and brightest physicians and health care professionals,” he said. WCHN includes Danbury Hospital, New Milford Hospital and the Biomedical Research Institute in downtown Danbury, Connecticut.

Global health as a growing specialty

Dr. Sadigh comes to WCHN with a wealth of experience in global health, having worked in regions plagued by HIV/AIDS, ebola, malaria and cholera. Most recently, Dr. Sadigh taught at the Yale Medical School, where he established exchange programs with Makerere College of Health Sciences in Uganda and Kazan State Medical University in Russia.

The soft-spoken physician said he was drawn to WCHN by the opportunity to build a global health education program with Dr. Ahmadi, a graduate of the Yale Primary Care Program and Yale School of Public Health who Dr. Sadigh considers a “creative educational architect.” He also welcomed the chance to work under the “visionary leadership” of John Murphy, MD, president and chief executive officer of WCHN. “Both Drs. Murphy and Ahmadi understand the importance of having a strong medical education and research program,” he said.

Dr. Sadigh hasn’t wasted a minute since assuming his new post. Last week, a month after visiting a clinic in Dominican Republic, Dr. Sadigh was in Vietnam where he plans to establish exchange programs. Last month, Danbury Hospital hosted seven physicians from Tatarestan Ministry of Health in Russia.

On Dec. 6, Dr. Sadigh will lead WCHN’s second Global Health Night at Danbury Hospital with physicians speaking about their experiences in Russia, Uganda and Kenya and the importance of global citizenship at Western Connecticut Health Network and the University of Vermont. The same presentation will take place at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Currently, Dr. Sadigh is hosting three more physicians from the Tatarestan Ministry of Health and an infectious disease faculty member from Kazan State Medical University. Next February, the Tatarestan Minister of Health and two associates will visit WCHN to expand the current partnership.

Medical students at the University of Vermont College of Medicine already spend six months training at Danbury Hospital. Under the new global health education program, fourth-year medical students will have the opportunity to practice abroad for six weeks at one of the overseas locations. First-year medical students can conduct research in Uganda and Russia.

According to Dr. Sadigh, a growing number of faculty, residents and medical students are looking for opportunities to study abroad as more Americans seek physicians who are familiar with diseases that impact the globe. “There are no boundaries when it comes to germs,” he said. “Look at how quickly SARS and other diseases can spread from one country to another.”

Training the next generation of physicians

Medical students who practice overseas can expect a “transformational experience” that reminds them of “the importance of the human touch” when practicing medicine, said Dr. Sadigh.

“Students who witness human suffering while studying abroad come back home as more caring individuals who see the vulnerability of patients regardless of their nationality,” he said.

Studies show medical students who study abroad are more likely to become primary care physicians and care for the poor and underserved. WCHN has one of the nation’s few residency programs for primary care physicians. “The United States faces a shortage of primary care physicians at a time when healthcare reform is placing a greater emphasis on primary care, prevention and the management of chronic disease,” he said.

Practicing abroad also allows medical students to hone their diagnostic skills by working “away from their comfort zone” in an environment where technology, procedures, supplies and healthcare professionals are scarce, said Dr. Sadigh.

“Most of my most powerful learning experiences occurred in countries like Iran, Pakistan, Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, East Timor and Russia,” he said. “These are all powerful lessons that strengthen our ability to care for patient’s right here at home.”

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Andrea Rynn
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