Each year, the Universidade de São Paulo Medical School in São Paulo, Brazil hosts Winter School. It is a program that brings together medical students from all over the world to further develop and explore their interests in various medical specialties such as psychiatry, neurology, tropical medicine, surgery, cardiology, OB-GYN, and dermatology, just to name a few. Didactics and hands-on clinical experience take place at the Hospital das Clínicas medical complex, which is the largest hospital system in Latin America. While participating in the program, students are integrated into medical teams according to the specialty of their choice and take part in clinical care alongside residents, medical students, and attendings just as they would at their home institutions. University of Michigan Global REACH offers travel grants to medical students who participate in Winter School.
What really set the tone for the entire experience was the official welcome on orientation day. There was genuine excitement among the members of the University that we were joining their school, even if for a short time. As they introduced the history of the school and the mission statement for Winter School programming, the term “academic internationalization” stuck out to me. It was the term they used to communicate their belief that their medical students were better able to provide care to their patients when they invited other cultures and ideas into their sphere of practice. This openness laid a foundation of respect, curiosity, humility, and cooperation so that as we set off onto our respective rotations, we did so excited to learn about one another and this new health system we were so privileged to join.
During my rotation in Trauma Surgery, we completed a mixture of didactics, ultrasound/surgical skills labs, OR observation, and rounding with patients on the ED, ICU, and general wards. These experiences typically sparked in-depth case discussions as we followed our patients throughout the course of their treatment and explored the nuances of care within our international team. What was awesome about the clinical experience was that our reception on the wards as Winter School students was just as welcoming as it had been on orientation day. Everyone was excited to chat with us, to teach, and to give their time to make this experience a superb learning opportunity.
I still remember some of the “cool” cases we saw, but more than anything what I remember is how the attendings and residents went above and beyond to make sure we felt valued as clinical colleagues and as guests in their country. For the duration of Winter School, the attending physicians and residents halted all of their normal clinical activities and dedicated all of their energy to teaching Winter School students. That was no small feat for such a high-volume medical center. The dedication of so many resources to our learning and growth is something for which I will always have tremendous gratitude. At the conclusion of this time, I was truly saddened to leave the new friends I had made from around the world and this beautiful city. This was truly one of the greatest experiences I have ever had during medical school, and I think there is no substitute for what we can learn when we pair an open invitation with an open mind.
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Brittany is a fourth-year medical student at University of Michigan Medical School who recently completed an away rotation in Trauma Surgery Universidade de São Paulo Medical School in São Paulo, Brazil.