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Going Outside the “Comfort Zone”- a snapshot of GEMx post-elective experiences

Filed under: From GEMx Staff

Carol Russo
Post by Carol Russo, GEMx Senior Coordinator

Working for a program that offers access to international medical exchanges provides a reminder of how engaging in new situations, environments and systems not only provides alternate perspectives but affords opportunities of self discovery.

While I personally had an international exchange experience while a student in college, it was not a medical elective exchange. This was in the days of the internet’s infancy and my university’s study abroad office still housed all of its exchange opportunities in 500 page binders categorized by geographical regions. I ultimately chose and was accepted to a multicourse exchange in Siena, Italy.  I easily recall those initial moments while on my exchange where I felt overwhelmed by something as simple as deciphering a campus bus schedule or my inability to procure correct currency for basic purchases. However, I also carry with me that by self realizing my  weaknesses could provide opportunities for me to self-adapt and grow as a person in the larger human world.

GEMx has always been interested in hearing how students perceive their exchanges upon their returns and I would like to share some of these reflections with you as they demonstrate the profound and personal takeaways when  one allows to be challenged by immersion in a different culture and place.

“The first lesson in this experience I had, was to break the language barrier that were between the patients and me, I think was the most difficult task, because they where used to consult local doctors, and as I started to interact, it was not that easy. Over and over, you start to learn how to approach people and pathologies. The country I visited is also in ways to develop as mine, but smaller. So I could compare and [analyze] how they solve their health problems and social problems, I visited a lot of Tibetan and classic medicine centers, in which I talked with the local healers and communicate and learn about their most [common diseases] and how the manage them. “

“I feel that I am more confident. Having the opportunity to see how is it out there makes me a better person and a person who is able to try and attempt in thinking outside of the box for the betterment of all. Also, I began to appreciate more on what is here for me and the society in my country. One of the most striking aspect was the fact that junior doctors there in Indonesia including post graduate specialist trainees in Indonesian Hospitals are actually not paid any salary or wages. Despite of these difficulties they are still very much comfortable and striving their ways in their career on how they could benefit the society.”

“The only difficulty and disappointment that one would initially have would be that the medical system is in Hebrew. But, it is worth an experience to overcome this challenge by finding new friends who could help you. At the end, you will agree that language barrier is never an hindrance for you to learn but rather it opens a new path to build good and long standing relationships.”

“Many times when I was there, I felt so left behind and far off from the standard they live up to. Being surrounded in a mentally challenging environment can push you to be better, but it can also be draining and make you feel very small. It took me quite some time to regain myself and admit that Im inadequate. Once I embraced the fact, I started asking questions when I dont understand, participated in discussions, and soon enough I realized I’m learning a lot more. I was touched that the professors, senior residents, and interns I work with were very helpful once I open[ed] up.”

Oftentimes, experiencing the unfamiliar can carry more portents in shaping who and how we are in the future; it is up to the individual to discover how being vulnerable can deliver the most lasting lessons.

GEMx Staff Post: Introducing Angel Roman, GEMx Coordinator

Filed under: From GEMx Staff

Angel Roman
Post by Angel Roman, GEMx Coordinator 

Hello everyone!  My name is Angel Roman and I am the newest member to the GEMx Staff. I joined ECFMG in 2010 as a member of the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) at ECFMG. My time in ERAS expanded my knowledge of the process for which International Medical Graduates undergo to enter into U.S Graduate Medical Education (GME). The principal reason of why I joined GEMx was to renew my working relationship with past ERAS employees, Justin Seeling (GEMx Program Manager) and Carol Russo (GEMx Senior Coordinator).

At the forefront of my decision however, was  gaining a broader understanding of global health education systems and how cross cultural awareness could serve to develop a better understanding of some diseases. In my new role as GEMx Coordinator, I will serve as the point of contact for new institutions by assisting with the onboarding process as partners in GEMx global and regional network exchanges.

I was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and returned after attending college in North Carolina. The transition between living in a large city such as Philadelphia and attending school at a small campus located in the Outer Banks of North Carolina was indeed a culture shock. I am certain that any student who has had the opportunity to participate in an elective abroad has experienced varying degrees of “culture shock”. One key difference between Philadelphia and my college campus is the closing times for local businesses. In Philadelphia the closing times vary from 10pm -2am, however on my small Southern campus, all but one store closed at 9pm. Returning home after college granted me well needed time to spend with family and friends (and convenient shopping times!)

My passion for mechanics and the love for speed developed from my bond with my father who taught me everything there is to know about how to both race and fix cars and motorcycles. I have recently completed a restoration of my father’s old school Harley Davidson. Most of my free time is spent exploring the ever growing food scene in Philadelphia with my wife Richmary and dog Ace.

I am excited about joining the GEMx team and look forward to hopefully meeting some of you in person.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me by email at


GEMx Staff Post: Working the Faculty of Medicine-University of Tunis El Manar at The Network: Towards Unity for Health Conference 2017

Filed under: From GEMx Staff

Post by Carol Russo, GEMx Senior Coordinator and International Conference Organizing Committee Member for of The Network: Towards Unity for Health (TUFH) Conference

“It is Amine, not Imen [Madame!]”

This patient student could no longer politely bear the indignity of my grievous and ever constant misspelling his name.  I had been chatting back and forth with him via WhatsApp to manage and direct his assigned fellow student volunteers for The Network: Towards Unity for Health/World Summit on Social Accountability Conference. Each year I volunteer to assist  the Conference organizers in planning and provide on-site support. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my on-site role is having the opportunity to interact and work with the students. This year the conference was held in Hammamet, Tunisia; and the host institution was the Faculty of Medicine-University of Tunis El Manar.

Students from University of Tunis El Manar Faculty of Medicine volunteered at the 2017 The Network: TUFH Conference

Nearly 50 students from University of Tunis El Manar Faculty of Medicine volunteered at the 2017 The Network: TUFH Conference. Pictured here is the group responsible for preparing the delegate bags on the eve of the Pre-Conference. The students specially designed these bags to include traditional Tunisian weaving on their reverse sides (complete with camel silhouettes!) and also thoughtfully included unique Tunisian souvenirs for the attendees.

Led by their dean, Dr. Ahmed Maherzi, these students served as translators, hosts, session assistants, registration and badging clerks, scientific poster hangers, airport greeters and cultural ambassadors for the roughly 500 delegates who attended. Throughout the 4 days of Pre-Conference and Main Conference events, their dedication, humor, spirit, cleverness, energy, cordiality and tenacity were constant and present to the delegates, fellow international medical and healthcare profession students, global health stakeholders and their guests. The students were integral to delivering an experience filled with all the valuable take-aways this conference traditionally offers. 

By the way, come to find out,  “Imen” is a common Tunisian girls’ name.

Amine, again, my apologies… I don’t know how we could have had such a successful conference without your assistance, your fellow students’ commitment … and your forgiving nature!


A message from GEMx Regional Representative in Africa – Faith Nawagi

Filed under: From GEMx Staff GEMx Regional Exchanges

Post by Faith Nawagi, GEMx Regional Representative 

Faith Nawagi, GEMx Regional Representative

It all began in 2014 when I attended The Network TUFH conference in Fortaleza Brazil. I met Ms. Anna Iacone who was really passionate about global exposure for medical students. Having been volunteering at my school back then at the international office  I thought this would be a great opportunity for our school but also bearing in mind that i had strong interest in internationalization in health professional training. My roles at the international  office back home were really too basic These involved helping with orienting exchange students and faculty by taking them around the hospital and adapting to the life around Uganda by showing them places that would enable them get their basic needs. In 2015 I was lucky to be one of the winners of the student Projects for Health which was sponsored by GEMx in Gauteng South Africa under the Network TUFH. While there, I met the entire GEMx team and we discussed more on possible roles and ways to enhance visibility in Africa for GEMx.

Faith Nawagi, GEMx Africa representative
In 2016, GEMx launched the regional exchange program in Africa to enhance global exposure for students as they train to become future health practioners. In the same year I took up a role as the GEMx Africa representative where i played an imperative role to bring on board 24 African medical institutions to provide elective programs for medical and other health professional students. This was through working with the various networks that are existent in the region. These include, MEPI, COECSA, NEPI and EAHPHEA. With the various associations meetings were held with the board and GEMx representation for interested schools to sign up was through an Exhibition booth, abstract pre
sentation and modulation of conference sessions. Late in 2016 we worked on ensuring all schools submit the required documents.  The electives are to be up and running this year 2017. As the project is implemented various aspects of research and strengthening partnerships will also be looked at.  In addition I also serve as the Co-chair on the Student Ambassador Network for GEMx new brooding consortia of students for the various GEMx schools with great potential to enhance GEMx visibility yet at the same time promoting cross cultural linkages and global learning opportunities and interaction.

GEMx has offered the best platform for me to realize the kind of career path I always wanted through contributing to medical education in research, academia and building global partnerships. My greatest glimmer is the hope GEMx has provided to medical and other health professional students across the globe to gain global exposure through building global partnerships but also at the same time enhancing visibility of the outstanding community projects with significant impact implemented by students across the world.

Introducing the GEMx Blog!

Filed under: From GEMx Staff

Hello, and welcome to the GEMx Blog!

This page will provide us with the ability to broadcast GEMx-related news, updates, and informational content, while also offering a platform to highlight YOUR experiences, feedback, and reflections related to GEMx and global exchanges!

Your contributed content may encourage more schools to consider joining the GEMx program which will provide their students with more opportunities to participate in an elective exchange!  In launching and growing our exchange network, we’ve been fortunate enough to get to know many faculty members and students at our partner institutions, and are happy to now be able to share the knowledge and expertise of these individuals publicly. The blog will include posts not only from faculty and students of GEMx partners, but will also feature posts authored by various leaders in medicine and health professions education that are relevant to educational exchanges.

We believe that sharing all of these perspectives on this page will add a deeper understanding of the benefits available to you through global exchanges and the GEMx program. We encourage you to add your thoughts, comments, suggestions, and questions in the comments section of our post!  When you leave comments, please remember that GEMx reserves the right to delete comments that are considered inappropriate.

We look forward to hearing your perspective! If you have any questions regarding the blog, or wish to submit content, please write to

Thank you!

– The GEMx Team

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