The longstanding partnership between St. George’s University, Grenada, and Northumbria University, UK, was strengthened again as 72 students joined the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program (KBTGSP). The relationship between the two institutions, now in its eleventh year, enables SGU students to take the first year of their MD degree—basic sciences—at Northumbria University, before returning to Grenada to continue their studies.
The occasion was marked by a traditional White Coat Ceremony, where the students were ‘robed’ in their white coats, a symbol of the medical profession, before taking an oath of commitment to use their training for the benefit of others. A key focus of the KBTGSP is to encourage medical students to devote at least a portion of their professional lives to the service of developing countries, underserved regions of the world, or international NGOs.
Leading the occasion was Master of Ceremonies, Gordon Bourne, MD SGU ’17, a graduate and faculty member of the KBTGSP at Northumbria, where he serves as a clinical tutor. As the grandson of SGU’s first Vice Chancellor, Dr. Geoffrey Bourne, and nephew of its third Vice Chancellor, Dr. Peter Bourne, his family has a long history with SGU. A former Royal Marine, Dr. Bourne spent seven years working and traveling in Sub-Saharan Africa, principally working with anti-poaching units in Tanzania. “Learning how to adapt and how to survive” is as useful in medical school as in the marines or the bush, he told the students.
Dr. Bourne introduced Baroness Howells of St. Davids, the only Grenadian in the UK’s House of Lords and president of the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF)—SGU’s research arm. Baroness Howells welcomed the students, and remarked, “You will enjoy your time at this splendid university before continuing your studies at SGU in Grenada, where you can bask in the land of perpetual sun”.
The keynote address was delivered by Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of SGU. In his speech, Dr. Olds told three personal stories from his medical career that shaped him into the doctor he is today. “I hope to leave you with something you remember for longer than you are in this room”, he said. Dr. Olds emphasized, in all three cases, “always do what’s best for your patients, ahead of all other considerations.”
Having been robed in their white coats, the students joined their friends and families at a reception, before taking their first steps into a career in medicine.
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In the Austin American-Statesman, Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of St. George’s University, explained how international medical schools can be the answer to the physician shortage in Texas, a shortage that could reach 6,000 doctors by 2030.
“Doctors trained abroad can help fill the gap,” Dr. Olds wrote. “They already treat millions of patients across the Lone Star State. And many of them are actually U.S. citizens who chose to study overseas—and then return home to practice.”
St. George’s University has graduated more than 16,000 physicians who have gone on to practice in all 50 US states, as well as more than 50 countries worldwide. Thirty-four SGU graduates began their residencies in Texas this summer, joining fields that included surgery, anesthesiology, and emergency medicine, as well as primary care specialties such as family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics.
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An agreement has been made between St. George’s University and Cardiff University in Wales that will provide opportunities for students to participate in exchange programs to bolster their training and further develop international partnerships between leading healthcare institutions.
The new five-year agreement, signed between SGU and Cardiff University’s School of Healthcare Sciences, will pave the way for students studying nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, radiotherapy, and operating department practice to spend three weeks studying at the partner university, gaining international experience and new professional connections.
Under the agreement, exchange students will continue to pay tuition fees to their home university, with the host university waiving their tuition fees for the duration of study. They will be fully registered members of the host university, and have the same access to all academic, support, and recreational services as the resident student body. They will also receive a Statement of Attendance for their period of study at their host institution.
“We’re delighted to have struck this new agreement with Cardiff University,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of SGU. “It is a testament to the growing prominence of SGU as a highly regarded international center of healthcare education, and a strong endorsement of both our programs and our students—recognized around the world for their quality.”
This new exchange program with Cardiff University will allow SGU students to benefit from studying with one of the top-ranked research departments in the UK. In turn, Cardiff students will have the chance to further their education at our beautiful True Blue campus in Grenada, alongside their contemporaries from more than 140 countries around the world.
“Our school in Cardiff University is committed to enhancing global networking. This MOU allows healthcare students an opportunity to experience healthcare education and practice in a different cultural context,” said Professor Dianne Watkins, Cardiff University Deputy Head of School, International and Engagement. “The first exchange of nursing students is underway and they are very excited to be part of this collaboration. We hope our partnership with St. George’s University will develop further and encompass opportunities for teacher exchange and joint research in the future.”
The partnership compliments SGU’s existing UK presence, with all MD students already offered the opportunity to undertake the first year of their program at Northumbria University in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, as part of the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program—now in its 12th year. SGU students can also take advantage of third year core placements at 16 NHS affiliated UK hospitals.
SGU recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Health Education England (HEE), which is expected to enable 50 to 100 SGU graduates every year to undertake postgraduate training in England. Under this agreement, SGU School of Medicine graduates will join the Widening Access to Specialty Training (WAST) Program, an initiative within the NHS to recruit overseas postgraduate doctors into underserved specialisms, including General Practice and Psychiatry.
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St. George’s University graduate Jennifer Favre started as a bookkeeper at East End Pediatrics when she was just a college student. Twelve years later, with a medical degree to her credit, Dr. Favre has rejoined the practice, working alongside her mentor who helped her begin working toward her dream of becoming a physician.
“Gail has always advised all of her patients that this is their medical home,” Dr. Favre said of the practice owner, Dr. Gail Schonfeld. “You come into the practice, we will take care of you. If you have a question, you get one of four physicians on the phone within a matter of minutes, 24 hours a day. When we’re not here at night, somebody still calls them back. . . . That’s something you can’t find everywhere. And that’s the kind of medicine I want to practice.”
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St. George’s University and Felician University have launched a program that will allow qualified applicants to Felician to receive early admission to the medical or veterinary schools at St. George’s.
“We are excited to welcome Felician University’s best and brightest to our campus in Grenada,” Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of St. George’s University, said. “This partnership will allow aspiring doctors and veterinarians to focus on their studies at Felician, secure in the knowledge that they’ll have a spot reserved for them in our medical or veterinary school.”
Students who wish to pursue one of the combined degree programs apply to Felician. St. George’s will consult with Felician on their applications and conduct interviews with qualified candidates. The universities will jointly makes offers for the combined program.
According to Dr. Anne Prisco, President of Felician University, “Several Felician students have attended St. George’s University. This partnership expands our relationship to a new level and provides our incoming students who qualify for this program the peace of mind they need to focus their efforts on preparing for their professional studies.”
In order to proceed to the St. George’s University School of Medicine, Felician students must have a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.4 and an MCAT score within three points of the previous term’s average score at St. George’s. To be eligible to continue onto the St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine, Felician students must have a grade point average of at least 3.1 and a GRE score of at least 300. A letter of recommendation from the appropriate Felician University faculty is also required.
Medical students will complete their first two years of medical study in Grenada and then undertake two years of clinical training at hospitals affiliated with St. George’s in the United States or the United Kingdom.
Students pursuing degrees in veterinary medicine will study in Grenada for three years and spend their final clinical year at affiliated universities in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, or Australia.
Felician University joins a network of dozens of institutes of higher learning in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom that have teamed up with St. George’s to offer students an accelerated path to a career as a doctor or veterinarian.
“It’s a privilege to educate the next generation of doctors and veterinarians,” Dr. Olds said. “These future graduates of Felician and St. George’s will play a critical role in addressing the world’s most pressing health challenges.”
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For the past 16 years, St. George’s University’s Med-Vet Summer Leadership Academy has provided college and high school students from around the world with an insider’s view of medical or veterinary medical school. This summer, more than 80 aspiring physicians and veterinarians were provided with insight into their future professions to help them make a well-informed decision before fully committing to such rigorous careers.
Successfully balancing a challenging academic program with extracurricular activities selected to highlight the culture and innate beauty of Grenada, the Summer Academy program offers courses that combine didactic lectures, small-group problem-solving sessions, practical lab work in state-of-the art facilities, and hands-on training through simulated and real-life situations.
Attending this year’s program was Pranav Lakhan, a 16-year-old student from Mumbai, India who traveled to Grenada from Paris, France. Mr. Lakhan enrolled in the Academy with hopes of interacting and gaining insight from existing students on what he would be experiencing in a few years when he enters medical school.
“I think the Summer Academy is an invaluable platform for aspiring medical professionals to get experience while still in school, which is an absolutely rare opportunity,” said Mr. Lakhan, who was one of more than a dozen Academy attendees who hailed from India. “We visited the labs for anatomy, suturing, and ultrasounds, which was mind blowing. I felt like I was a real medical student in medical school. Although the pressure may be a little overwhelming at first, it was still an amazing experience that just filled you with knowledge and all you had to do was absorb it. I think this program gives you a good indication of what medical school will actually be like. To any aspiring students that want to come here, it’s an absolutely surreal experience.”
Also, participating in the Med-Vet Summer Leadership Academy was 16-year-old Reet Kohli, a 12thgrade student also visiting from India. Coming from a family of doctors, Ms. Kohli has known since sixth grade that she wanted to become a doctor. Enrolling in the Summer Academy gave her a closer look into the practical aspects of the profession that she expects to pursue.
“This was my first time traveling alone, but once I got here it has been a really fun experience,” Ms. Kohli said. “I feel at home in Grenada. It is such a beautiful place. My parents were very supportive of me coming here and very happy that I was going to get this opportunity. In India, we are taught from the textbooks, so although we know what a cadaver is, to actually see one in real life was a truly great experience. Getting to wear a stethoscope, using all the equipment that doctors use and hearing the professors refer to you as ‘doctor’ is just an amazing feeling. This experience has given me more confidence that yes, this is what I want to do with my life. Putting on those scrubs, I can imagine myself living in them for the rest of my life.”
Heather Brathwaite, who has directed the Met-Vet Summer Leadership Academy for the last 13 years, has seen many of the students come full circle.
“It’s been an amazing opportunity and very rewarding to be able to see the students come to the program and then later come back as enrolled students at SGU,” added Ms. Brathwaite. “Many of these same students also come back to work for the Summer Academy while they’re studying at SGU.”
“One of the major goals of the Academy is to help students decide whether this is the path they want to choose,” she added. “With a mix of academic and fun activities, they go to lectures and labs just like our regular SGU medical and veterinary students do. They receive one-on-one attention, working closely with our actual SGU faculty who provide hands-on experience utilizing equipment and materials that most students their age would not have the chance to.”
– Ray-Donna Peters
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In July, St. George’s University graduate Thao Wolbert was named Resident of the Month by Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.
On MU’s Twitter account, it was noted that “patients and every member of her clinical care team raved about Dr. Thao Wolbert’s bedside manner and knowledge of the human body, surgery and the disease process.” Dr. Wolbert is in the third year of a five-year surgery residency at MU, and is currently applying for plastic surgery fellowships.
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Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of St. George’s University, visited with WUSA 9 in Washington, DC, to discuss the primary care doctor shortage facing the United States.
“There’s a general shortage of physicians because we don’t produce enough doctors in the US for our needs. Remember that we’re a growing country, but from a doctors’ standpoint, we’re an aging country, and when you get over 70 years of age, your need for physicians goes up astronomically.
“The primary care problem is that 30 percent of graduates of US medical schools go into primary care and the rest specialize. We need more than half of them to go into primary care. This primary care shortage is going to get considerably worse as the next decade rolls out.”
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the nation will be short up to 50,000 primary care doctors by 2030.
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Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of St. George’s University (left), and Professor Ian Cumming, Chief Executive of Health Education England, sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will allow SGU graduates to undertake postgraduate training in England through the NHS’ Widening Access to Specialty Training program.
At a ceremony in Grenada, leaders of Health Education England (HEE), part of the National Health Service (NHS), and St. George’s University signed a Memorandum of Understanding to enable SGU School of Medicine graduates to undertake postgraduate training in England, with the first intake expected in the autumn of 2018. SGU School of Medicine is the only Caribbean medical school in a direct agreement with Health Education England for the first 18-month program to provide graduates for postgraduate training. The agreement is expected to facilitate 50-100 trainees annually from SGU School of Medicine entering the NHS in England.
This agreement establishes a pathway for a significant number of SGU School of Medicine graduates to join the Widening Access to Specialty Training (WAST) Program, an initiative within NHS that recruits overseas postgraduate doctors, with a focus on ensuring they are able to enter general practice and psychiatry training programs, the expansion of both specialties being a key priority for the NHS. Sixteen SGU graduates will begin WAST in the next seven months, with many more in the application process.
Graduates will undertake one or two postgraduate foundation years, depending on prior experience, followed by entry into specialty training. This postgraduate training is recognized for licensure and given credit in the UK, the European Union, and Commonwealth countries.
“Our role is to ensure the health workforce in England can meet the challenges faced by the NHS, which includes the provision of services in underserved areas,” said Professor Ian Cumming, Chief Executive of Health Education England. “We are very impressed that graduates provided by SGU are of the high standard demanded by the NHS; I look forward to the first intake arriving in 2018.”
St. George’s University has graduated more than 16,000 physicians who have gone on to practice medicine throughout the world.
HEE Director of Global Engagement Ged Byrne added, “St. George’s students are well qualified and talented. We anticipate they will have great success in our postgraduate training programs and in practice in the UK afterwards.”
“This agreement highlights the increasingly important role played by SGU as an international institution in global health care,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of SGU. “Our extensive network of partner universities and teaching hospitals around the world, including in England, ensures our students receive a comprehensive education in a range of clinical environments. This is reflected in the fact that we are the only Caribbean medical school to enter into an agreement with HEE, enabling our graduates to apply for the WAST program. England has one of the most stringent regulatory frameworks in the world, and that our graduates now have this opportunity is reflective of their caliber. We are delighted that this major development has taken place in the 70th anniversary year of the NHS.”
With intakes in February and August each year, most successful applicants will join a one-year postgraduate foundation clinical course in England, where they will improve the skills and competencies required for admission to specialty training. The program will typically consist of six months of psychiatry training followed by six months in an acute hospital setting. Upon completing the program, graduates will be eligible to apply for an Alternative Certificate of Foundation Competencies, after which they can apply for a three-year program of specialty training in England.
Commenting on the importance of the agreement for SGU in the UK, Rodney Croft, Dean of Clinical Studies, UK, said, “I am delighted that St. George’s medical graduates, some of whom have received clinical training in our 17 NHS affiliated hospitals in England, will now have the opportunity to return to England to practice—thereby helping to offset the numerical and specialty shortage of doctors we are presently experiencing.”
The location of training for those on the WAST program will be assigned by HEE, with most programs focusing on areas of acute shortage, predominantly in the Midlands, East, North and South West of England, Yorkshire, and the Humber. Successful applicants will be offered their highest available location preference.
“One of our central aims is to find ways to train doctors in the areas they are needed most,” said Dr. Olds. “The global shortage of medical professionals is exacerbated by maldistribution, both by geography and specialty. This agreement, which will encourage our graduates to train in family medicine and psychiatry in areas of England with the greatest need, is one example of how we are making a significant positive impact around the world.”
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No mission had quite an impact like the first one.
Jessica Willett, MD SGU ’13, fresh out of residency and eager to experience international medicine, joined the Flying Doctors of America team on a trip to Al-Mafraq, Jordan. There she helped to operate a pediatric clinic for Syrian refugees who were forced to travel south to escape their war-torn homeland. Many of their patients had experienced unthinkable trauma.
“The issues we heard about blew me away. They had physical scars as well as emotional scars,” she recalled. “We did as much as we could for them, even though we knew the trauma would affect them for the rest of their lives. Going into it, I didn’t really think about the impact that it might have, but I’m thankful that I went.”
While the experience might have shell-shocked some, it only fueled Dr. Willett’s passion for such work. Through the Idaho-based not-for-profit, which provides treatment to the most impoverished countries and communities around the world, she has since treated patients in remote portions of Fiji, in villages deep in the Amazon rainforest in Guyana, and at Palmasola Prison in Bolivia, where she and her colleagues provided correctional care for criminals and their families, all of whom live on the premises. She even coordinated a mission to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, providing much needed care just to Grenada’s north.
The experiences have changed her not only as a doctor but as a person.
“The more you know, the greater your perspective you have,” said Dr. Willett, an emergency physician at San Joaquin General Hospital in French Camp, CA. “Being an ER physician, I had a little of that to start with; when you get a flat tire, I can say that it’s been worse and I’ve seen worse. But when you bear witness to these people’s lives and their stories, that feeling is emphasized.”
Her work with Flying Doctors feeds into Dr. Willett’s thirst for world travel. She has traveled to more than 40 countries, and like in life, her journey to medicine from tiny Rumney, NH, was very much a scenic route. As an undergraduate student at Ithaca College, she had designs on becoming a music teacher, but shifted paths to another passion of hers—health and physical education—two years in. Studying human anatomy opened the door to medicine, and after fulfilling her prerequisite courses, she applied to and enrolled at St. George’s University.
Her involvement in Flying Doctors started as a curiosity—“I figured I would try it and see how it goes.” In two short years, she has not only provided care around the world but also joined the Flying Doctors inner circle, having been named to its 10-person executive board. In her new role, she has helped plan future missions to places like Ethiopia, Peru, and Tanzania, as well as return trips to Jordan and St. Vincent. Dr. Willett estimated that each trip cost around $2,000 for Flying Doctor volunteers, enough to cover costs ranging from transportation and food to lodging and supplies. They customarily bookend the missions with a day or two to plan and/or debrief, as well as relax.
Flying Doctors operates under the “Mother Teresa Principle,” seeking out and setting up in the world’s most impoverished communities. Its slogan: “Bringing hope and healing to the poorest of the poor.” In its 28-year history, the organization has embarked on more than 200 missions and treated over 185,000 patients.
“They are difficult trips,” she said. “In America, we have all the fancy machines, but on these trips, it’s almost like going back in time. Instead of focusing on technology and electronic technology, which take away a little bit from the practice of medicine, it’s really all about that connection—talking to people, examining them, learning about all these different social factors, and different types of medicine. Doing more with less and coming back to the states with that experience has improved our practice here.”
Dr. Willett has taken the reins of Flying Doctors’ return trip to St. Vincent, which she calls a “little known gem in the Caribbean.” In the inaugural visit in March, her team included two internal medicine doctors, an ophthalmologist, two dentists, and two dental assistants, all of whom collaborated with local health workers to provide medical and dental checkups, administer basic vaccines, and treat a wide variety of eye issues—by far the most abundant medical condition on the islands.
“It was great to be able to come back and use my knowledge of the Caribbean to help people in St. Vincent and on the adjacent islands,” she said. “Because of their exposure to the sunlight and dry heat, everybody had vision problems, but none of them wore eyeglasses or sunglasses despite them being so common and accessible. It’s amazing how powerful and life-changing they can be.”
“We want to see patients, but we also want to leave a community better than when we found it by connecting with people and fostering a little more ownership there,” she added. “If we continue to do that, if we empower the people in these communities, we can get to a point where they no longer need us.”
Until then, however, the Flying Doctors of America are prepared to provide care wherever it’s needed most.
“Some of these people are in places where they’ve been told or feel that they don’t matter, that they don’t deserve health care,” Dr. Willett said. “For us to come and tell them otherwise is really encouraging and overwhelming to them. We let them know that somebody cares. Somebody wants to hear their story.”
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