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An Ophthalmology Post-Graduate Exchange Experience in Kenya

Filed under: GEMx Post-Graduate Exchanges GEMx Regional Exchanges GEMx Student Reflections Uncategorized

Post by Dr. Vrunaben Patel, a 3rd year MMed Ophthalmology resident from University of Zambia, who recently completed a GEMx Regional Exchange at the COECSA Institution,  Lighthouse for Christ Eye Centre, Mombasa Island, Kenya

doctor in front of care center

In front of Lighthouse for Christ  Eye Centre, Mombasa Island, Kenya

After all the pre-trip emails and detail fixing I finally sat on my flight to Mombasa, the full moon shining bright right outside my seat window. I was received at the airport by a friendly Lighthouse member of staff (got to read my name off a placard). Clean, convenient and safe housing was provided within the eye centre grounds.


Day one at Lighthouse I met both the consultant ophthalmologists based there. I was shown around the whole centre by the medical director and introduced to all the staff. First word I learnt in Swahili was ‘karibu’=’welcome’ as I was greeted warmly by everyone, including patients I was introduced to. During my elective, I spent most of my time seeing patients in the general clinic as well as the cornea and paediatric clinic. Interesting cases I got to discuss with the consultants included persistent diabetic clinically significant macular oedema, neovasular age related macular degeneration, high myopia in toddler, solar macular burns, branch/central retinal vein occlusions, ocular toxoplasmosis, amblyopia, recurrent corneal erosions, corneal graft complications and viral illness related uveitis.


Doctor performing and eye examination on an adult patient

Examining a patient in general clinic

Doctor in scrubs performing surgery

Performing eyelid graft surgery

Had a few clinical meetings as well, some cases discussed were central serous chorioretinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, oculocardiac reflex, and driver examination. My elective period included two weeks of screening patients and surgeries with visiting paediatric and corneal specialists. I got a chance to observe some penetrating keratoplasty surgeries, Descemets Stripping Endothelial keratoplasty and phacoemulsification; a totally new experience for me. Surgeries I did included 7 small incision cataract surgeries, 2 conjunctival growth excision biopsies, 1 pterygium excision and auto graft, 1 intravitreal injection, eyelid full thickness skin graft, anterior vitrectomy, examination under anaesthesia, and suturing corneal laceration/graft. I also did some dry and cycloplegic refraction using a phoropter for the first time.

plate with local cuisine

Local meal- ugaali and leafy vegetable








Within walking distance of the eye centre lays the town centre of Mombasa Island. Stalls, supermarkets, places of worship all accessed easily nearby. Mostly I would be accompanied by a colleague from the eye centre while sometimes I was able to take walks around the town by myself and went to some local attractions like Fort Jesus. I also got to visit the public beaches on the mainland Mombasa and shopping malls. I was able to appreciate some similarities with Zambian culture- the matatus (mini buses) used for longer distances; ugaali (Nshima) and muchicha (leafy vegetable) as the staple meal. Other foods commonly found were cassava chips, dates, cashew nuts, mabuyu, and fresh coconut water.


Practice at Lighthouse was just like an extension of the work environment from Zambia though I missed having fellow registrars to interact with most of the time. The staff had different levels and exposure to ophthalmology training and so I had a good learning and teaching exchange. It was a minimum-stress environment on most days. I am sincerely grateful to the staff at Lighthouse for an enlightening and happy experience during my elective. I am also thankful to the GEMx team and my school for making this trip possible. Experience, be it that of oneself or of another, is definitely the best teacher and that is what this elective was for me.

Overwhelmed by Good Hearts and Good People

Filed under: GEMx Student Ambassador Network GEMx Student Reflections Uncategorized

Post by Syafaf Humaira Binti Aman, global exchange student from Penang Medical College (Malaysia) who recently completed a GEMx Exchange at University of Sharjah in United Arab Emirates.

Who knew, a split-second decision of applying for GEMx Electives, and travelling alone to a country which was 5000km away from home would bring such an impact to my life – especially my medical student life. My name is Syafaf Humaira Aman and I am currently a final year medical student from Penang Medical College, Malaysia.

I’ve always known by my friends as a person who would leap into any great opportunities that comes and this was definitely one of those opportunities that I had decided to venture upon. Despite of that statement making me sound all very brave and courageous, there was still a hint of nervousness and anxiety when I got on the plane, heading to the UAE for my electives. This was the first time I solo-travelled, my first time going to a country that I am very unfamiliar with, and also my first time being a part of a new student community – alone.

Smiling young woman and young man by palm trees shops and restaurants

With Fuad, the student ambassador from University of Sharjah

All the worries and anxiousness slowly started to dissipate away when I was greeted by Fuad, the student ambassador from University of Sharjah (UoS) and his friend Dalia at the airport. Starting from the first meet up, up until the very last day of my stay in UoS, they had definitely helped me a lot – from helping me to settle down in my new dorm, helping the administrative officer to arrange my hospital posting, and introducing me to most of their friends so that I wouldn’t feel very lonely throughout my stay. I truly owe them a lot, as it was so much easier for me to blend in and get used to the new campus life with their help.

One thing I’ve learnt a lot from this experience is actually travelling alone isn’t as bad as I thought it would. It used to be a scary thought back then, but after this elective programme, I’ve came to learn that more opportunities tend to open up when you travel alone. When you’re all alone, you’ll be forced to get out of your comfort zone, and you’ll be ‘pushed’ to make a whole bunch of new friends. Without you even realizing, you’ll find yourself meeting new people, making connections with people that you’ve never intended to meet, and getting inspired by their life stories. This includes meeting a fellow Malaysian occupational therapist who had been working in the UAE for the past 8 years. It was amazing to get to hear her life experiences over there.

As for my clinical posting, I was being posted to Al-Baraha Hospital in Dubai under the Surgical Department. Truth to be told, it was definitely one of the best clinical experience I’ve ever went through my whole life as a medical student!

student posing with group of fellow students and instructors

With surgical team in Al Baraha Hospital, Dubai

The surgical team consisted of this set of surgeons of different nationalities, with years of experiences working at different regions of the world before. One thing I am truly awed was to see how dedicated these surgeons were, in both healing the patients and teaching the students. Despite their tight schedule during the OT days, they would still make time to teach us in the operation theatre, as well as in between the surgeries. Sometimes they would let us hang around at the surgeons’ lounge and they would share their experiences with us students too.

Instructing Surgeon and student in surgery

Me assisting in one of the surgeries done at the hospital while being assisted by the surgeon

During this posting too, I was fortunate enough to be given multiple chances to assist in several surgeries, guided by these aspiring surgeons. Even though the tasks that was given were pretty minor, but it was already more than I bargained for, and come to think of it, it was a fair start for me as a medical student. It was definitely a great exposure for me, one that I would never experience back home. I couldn’t help but to be thankful for these surgeons had never failed to make me feel as part as their team. At times, they would even introduce us students to the patients as the ‘training surgeons’ who had made them (the patients) feel better, and it was definitely one of the best feeling to hear the patients thanking you profusely for treating them. All in all, it was never a day that I wasn’t looking forward to step into the hospital as I knew I would be greeted by them with smiles and the day would then be occupied with bed side teachings, teachings at the outpatient department and multiple case discussions with the whole surgical team.

smiling students outside of hospital

With my groupmates after our daily clinical bedside teachings

My groupmates in Al-Baraha Hospital were truly amazing too. They were all very friendly and my four weeks at the hospital would have never been the same without them. In between the bedside teachings, or after we’ve all clerked patients, we would then be discussing the cases together, sometimes recalling what the surgeons have taught us by the end of each day. Sometimes these so called ‘hangout’ sessions would be filled with us sharing stories about each other’s families, travel stories, and favourite past times. One thing I find interesting in the UAE is that, all of the students there mostly originates from somewhere else outside of the UAE. Some of my groupmates for instance, were originally from Syria, Palestine, Turkey, Egypt and many more. Although they have stayed in the UAE for most of their live, they would still go back there once in a while and they would then share their stories and how their culture are back home. Not just that, they would also be the ones to prepare a long list for me consisting of interesting places I need to visit, and food that I need to try throughout my stay.

smiling girl by waterfront

Me at Madinat Jumeirah, with the Burj Al-Arab in the background

On the weekends, I would then take the opportunity to travel around Dubai, and explore the city as much as possible. The famous Burj Khalifa, Burj Al-Arab, the souqs and the beaches in Dubai were all truly breath-taking. I had even managed to make my way to Abu Dhabi on one of the long weekends during my stay in the UAE. Although it was pretty taxing to travel from UoS to Dubai, it was always be worth it. Taxing, because the transportations were pretty expensive, especially when you’re travelling alone, so sometimes I would need to opt for multiple forms of transportations in order to get to the places that I wanted to go. However, it definitely taught me the value of perseverance, independence and the importance of planning ahead of time.

All in all, not only I had gain ample amount of new knowledge within the medical field, but I had also obtained countless life lessons throughout this elective. It was a whole new level of experience which had definitely built my confidence and I hope that I could emulate all of these invaluable lessons throughout my life as a person, and a medical doctor in the future. I would like to extend my gratitude to GEMx for this once in a lifetime experience, and for encouraging me to step away from my comfort zone, and experience all of this. Not to forget Dr Nabil Sulaiman and Dr Osama Seif for being my supervisors over at University of Sharjah and Hospital Al-Baraha.

My Elective Experiences in the United States: NYC and Miami

Filed under: GEMx Student Reflections Uncategorized

Smiling student in tropical setting

Post by Abhinaya Sridhar, global exchange student from Kasturba Medical College – Mangalore (India) who completed two summer electives this past year in the United States including a GEMx Exchange at PAGNY in New York City.

Where do I begin? How do I begin describing the most interesting months of my life?

I am a medical student from India and have grown up here my entire life. Having said that, this wasn’t my first trip to the United States. I have been on multiple vacations and even traveled once when I was in high school for a Global young leader’s conference. There is only 1 word that aptly describes what I feel every time I step foot into this country – liberation. I see in front of me, not only what I already have, but, what life could be. I see endless opportunities, ambition, drive and heartfelt dreams – all becoming reality.

My first month was in THE BIG APPLE – the centre of diversity, culture and constant movement. New York made me feel at peace, at home.  I did an elective with PAGNY – affiliated with Gemx. I shadowed under multiple doctors in their private practice setting and it was such an eye opening experience. All the doctors were such good physicians and even better leaders and educators. It was a holistic experience – patient care, patient interaction, interacting with the staff and the nurses- it was truly an honour. I was integrated into the entire decision making process with the patient and given the opportunity to voice my thoughts and opinions in terms of patient care. The private practice clinics were all over new York and it gave me an opportunity to truly see the city, ride the subway and well – be a New Yorker, if I may say so.

three smiling young people on a beach with a carnival prize

GEMx PAGNY visits Coney Island: Abdudallah, Myself and Mercedes with a new “friend”

There were 3 of us in the program and I couldn’t have asked for better colleagues. It felt like we had known each other all along. Needless to say, it wasn’t all work and no play. We did visit Coney Island , walked along the boardwalk , ride the crazy rides and ate at Nathans!!! It was truly a memorable day. We even took the bus down to Philadelphia to meet with the GEMx team. We were in there for hardly a day , but we did manage to see the liberty bell!! The GEMx team was very welcoming and we had a sit in with their administration to speak about the PAGNY experience. It was an endless sea of opportunity and information for all of us.

Three smiling students in front of historic Liberty Bell in Philadelphia USA

Mercedes, Myself and Abdullah visit the Liberty Bell after meeting GEMx and ECFMG Leadership in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Well, before I knew it, it was time for the next elective in – yes!! The tourist and party central of Florida – Miami!!!! If there is anything at all that I’d say to someone travelling to Miami- KNOW YOUR SPANISH. Despite this “tiny” language barrier I was facing, Miami was an adventure in itself. I did my elective rotations in cardiology and radiology with Florida International University. Radiology had always been my Achilles tendon and I wanted to try something challenging and it was so worth it. My radiology elective preceptor was an excellent teacher and I learnt more about radiology that I had tried learning in my 5 years if medical school. I even assisted in bone marrow biopsies, ascitic taps and pleural taps. Learning and being in a hospital setting was definitely a very different experience from the one in New York. The interaction was expanded and spread across so many different specialties, doctors and residents. It was definitely quite challenging- dealing with Spanish and the multitude of doctors and students. And, of course, it wasn’t long before disaster  struck.

Yes, actual natural disaster in the form of IRMA. The first category  5 hurricane that Miami was seeing after ANDREW . IRMA was all that anyone could talk about. People were driving out, stocking up, hurricane proofing their houses and  with everyone scrambling to find their safe haven , I naturally tried to the same. I ended up staying with a family friend , who, thank heavens, lived in Miami. We all decided to ride the storm out together. Never before had I experienced a hurricane, let alone, in a city completely alien to me and with people I had known for less than a month.

But, all’s well that ends well and that’s how IRMA left Miami. I feel like I saw the city at its best, post Irma – they recovered so quickly and things were running like clockwork in a matter of a few days.

Ocean Tropical view

In Miami, Florida

There were times I missed New York – its energy, its culture, the vegan food and beautiful buildings. But I grew to enjoy Miami, for the beauty it had to offer. I did visit the Florida Keys before Irma hit and it was mesmerizing. The drive from Miami to the Keys was a thing of beauty.

Academically, it was truly enriching and inspiring. Every person I met had a story, a dream and aspired to be someone someday. Looking back, their experiences and stories have given me the strength and belief that I will make it too.

Inspired By Life- Elective experience in Manipal, India

Filed under: GEMx Student Ambassador Network GEMx Student Reflections

student standing by Kasturba Medical College Manipal sign

Post by Yik Chin Low, GEMx global exchange student (and GEMx student ambassador!) from Penang Medical College (Malaysia) who recently completed her GEMx Exchange at Kasturba Medical College – Manipal in India.

I always want an opportunity to learn medical in India as I have lot of friends sharing their experience there with me and I found it could be challenging to me. Thus, I applied to do my elective in Kasturba Medical College in India under Gemx as it is well known as top 10 medical school in India over years.

When I first arrived, I met a lot of Malaysian as well. They were curious on my choice to do my elective here rather than other developed countries but I believe that India as an underdeveloped country is the place where you can experience different healthcare system that could not be obtained in the home medical school and it’s teaching hospital. Thus, I want to use this opportunity to attain experience in the management of uncommon diseases.

exchange student surrounded by host school students

In the ward with KMC-Manipal students

I am honored to be guided by Professor Rama Bhat. He taught me a lot during the ward rounds as well as in the clinic session. However, language is always a barrier to me and I am lucky enough to have the final year students who are willing to translate for me. I realize how common TB case in India and it becomes  a taboo for them to even mention it and they called it Koch’ disease instead, same goes to leprosy and they only mention Hansen disease.

student standing next to her faculty supervisor

In the ward with my supervisor, Professor Rama Bhat

I have seen so many different cases that I never see in Malaysia and most of the patients presented to the hospital only when the symptoms get severe.  I remember how surprise I was to see a really bad case of Rhematoid Arthritis with severe deformities of both upper and lower limb and the chik’s sign on Chikukunya patient that I never even heard of the name. Through the ward rounds, I was able to join the discussion on different cases presented . The students here are genuinely smart and taught me a lot as well. They are so friendly that they always helped to translate the language when I have difficulty understand the patients.

Most of the patient here are of low socioeconomic and some of them don’t even have money to pay for the big sum of medical expenses. It is heartbreaking to see the family members lying all around the floor besides the bed while taking care of their family.

I also learn how important of the ethical and professionalism and come to realize how patients are reliable on the doctors’ judgement that they put their life on your hand.

The culture in India is another thing that Iearn. For instance, there is no secret in neighbourhood in India, and news spread real fast. Also, when any car accidents happen, there will always be a big crowds on either side of the party even though none of them are related to the accident or the person involved. However, the good thing is whenever things happen, there are  always someone there to lend you a hand.

Indian food selections

Indian food selections

I first came here with fear of hygience of the food here but after a week I fell in love with different types of Indian food here.

Furthermore, the visit to the museum of anatomy in KMC had indeed open my eyes and I can never find any more awesome museum that this one. It is really astonishing to actually witness with your eyes how the tumour cell can invade the body cell and the changes seen on the organ itself with your own eyes.

I also get an opportunity to travel around Mangalore. The beach in St Mary Island  is breathtaking and I like how spontaneous the people here. They literally just dance on the boat while the music is on. It is pretty amusing.

girl on beach

My weekend trip to St. Mary Island

I learn to self- improve on my inadequacy and work hard on my dream to be a great doctor because in the end, what you learn today might save a patient life another day.

Thanks so much to GEMx, I have this wonderful experience and It definitely going to help me a lot in my future. I have seen the medical care system in Ireland, Malaysia and India and it definitely give me a better understanding and I learn to appreciate what we have and know what to improve on.


When the Doctor Doesn’t Speak the Language

Filed under: GEMx Student Ambassador Network GEMx Student Reflections Uncategorized

Check out this essay on language and medicine by one of our student ambassadors who recently finished his GEMx elective exchange at University of Pavia, Faculty of Medicine and Surgery. He was helped with his italiano under the guidance  from fellow GEMx student ambassador, Cristiana Riboni while in Pavia. 

student in front of a mountains and large body of water

Ahmed Saleh in Italy

Post by Ahmed M. Saleh, MD Candidate ‘18, Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar

Realizing that this is not going to be as easy as I thought was one thing I knew the moment I stepped on Italian soil. I arrived at Milano Centrale in Italy, the city’s main transit hub, trying to figure out the best way to get to my destination, Pavia, a smaller city 50 kilometers south of Milan. Usually it takes about 20-30 minutes by train to get to Pavia’s main station, but it took me 2 hours, after getting off at the wrong station and having to come back again to Milan and switch trains a couple of times. Clearly, I didn’t do so well communicating or trying to follow instructions.

interior of a busy train station

Milano Centrale

A couple of days later, I woke up early and found my way to Maugeri Fondazione’s hospital on the edge of Pavia. I walked around the hospital’s corridors trying to find the nephrology ward until I was directed to the doctors’ room. It felt like a regular first day at the hospital of a medical student’s life. Just the usual feelings of uncertainty and being lost. Doctors and nurses spoke enough English for me to follow what was going on, but I realized the day isn’t that typical once we started rounding and talking to patients.

Before my time in Pavia, I never had issues communicating with patients as I’d either speak their language, or I had access to instant interpretation services over the phone through the hospitals where I rotated, which made obtaining history, performing physical exam maneuvers, and explaining the diagnosis and treatment plan to patients less complicated. However, my rotation in Italy made me realize how challenging it could be to provide quality and safe health care services to patients when you do not speak their language.

busy street scene with pedestrians and shops

A typical day in Pavia

My abroad exchange experience in Pavia has helped me gain a different perspective on what works well and what does not when practicing medicine if you don’t speak the same language as your patients. I remember spending a lot of time discussing the importance of communication in healthcare during my Medicine, Patients, and Society course; whether its communication among physicians and healthcare workers or between healthcare workers and patients and their family members.

While I was doing an inpatient rotation, where all patients were already triaged and transferred to our service in a relatively stable condition from the emergency room. I thought about how the process of seeing a patient in the emergency room might be different. Take a patient who walks in pointing at his/her chest and is in discomfort, but does not speak the same language as you, the healthcare provider. Without language coherence, is it left sided or right sided pain? When did it start and what’s the character of their pain? Are there any associated symptoms? These are all vital questions that direct the doctor’s time-sensitive management plan, thus, pose a significant challenge.

It is often said that physical exams and diagnostic workups are of no use in the absence of a focused, accurate history. Medical school has provided us with ample opportunities to work with diverse populations and be culturally competent in theory, however, applying such skills isn’t always as easy as it might sound like. My Pavia experience has provided me with a few tips that could be of use in such situations.

It is always useful it is to learn some key phrases and medical terms in a different language. It might not be feasible to learn a whole new language or be able to carry a conversation, but learning some basic terms to help you communicate with your patients to obtain history and perform a quick physical exam is optimal. Learning some phrases such as “take a deep breath”, “stop breathing”, “lie down”, and “look left or right” were all advantageous, and made performing a physical exam less challenging.  Additionally, it is important to speak slowly and calmly, even when someone is interpreting.

It is also important to be familiarized with some basic cultural beliefs and practices. In my case, knowing that it is inappropriate to greet people using “Ciao”, and needing to use “Bonjourno” and “Arrivederci” instead was vital. Additionally, the importance of body language and eye contact is one thing a provider should pay attention to, which are things I seldom paid attention to in the past and focused more on verbal communication as my main way of delivering information. Using hand gestures to supplement or replace words might be another way to get the conversation going. Using visual aids could be another way to deliver your message across. Keeping charts and pictures of the human body and the most commonly performed procedures is always useful, especially when treating children.

four smiling students enjoying gelato

From Left, Cristiana, Ahmed , Cristiana’s sister and her best friend enjoying gelato

These tips are definitely not the solution to eliminate any confusion or uncertainty that might arise, but keeping these in mind helps. My time in Pavia was definitely an eye opener and I started considering communication issues on a deeper level and how it affects the doctor-patient relationship. Medicine is all about making sure that patients are getting the best of care with no barriers, and language barriers should not be taken lightly.

a gelato cone held forward while walking down a street








A GEMx Exchange in Brooklyn, New York: A Story About Why All Medical Students Should Study Abroad

Filed under: GEMx Student Reflections

smiling student

Post by Carolina Severiche, GEMx global exchange student from Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (Colombia) who completed her GEMx Exchange through the American University of Antigua to Interfaith Medical Center in NYC

view from plane during flight to the US

En route to the United States!

Studying overseas can be one of the most amazing and unique experiences in a student’s life because they are thrust out of their comfort zone and get to challenge themselves with new adventures and learning opportunities. In my personal experience, doing a clerkship in the United States was no different. It was truly the most challenging and enriching opportunity for my medical training and life.

group of five women in hospital scrubs

With the surgery team made up of fellow exchange and medical students

My name is Carolina Severiche, and I’m and a 5th-year medical student from the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellín, Colombia. I’m a Spanish native speaker, Afro-Native American woman, and a lover of internal medicine and classic literature. I did a clerkship in internal medicine at Interfaith Medical Center in New York City during August and September of 2017. Interfaith is a full-service non-profit community hospital that has 287 beds and serves more than 11,000 inpatients each year. It is also a teaching hospital, with four graduate medical education residency programs and fellowship programs.

During my clerkship, I had the opportunity to grow and develop essential medical skills such as clinical reasoning, patient communication, physical examination, evaluation of evidence in patient management, and safe discharge planning skills. I did this while being part of an incredible internal medicine team which supported me in carrying out the daily rounds and the presentation of patient histories.

two smiling medical students

Another of my classmates and myself on the medical floor at the hospital

My experience in New York also went beyond my medical and academic interests and allowed me to grow in other significant and meaningful ways. The opportunity to work and live while speaking English as a second language was priceless to practice the language and gain new perspectives. Furthermore, experiences such visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met), listening to jazz in Harlem, exercising in Central Park, or learning about the many gastronomic pleasures of the world’s most multicultural city; all helped me to gain a greater sense of awareness for the world’s cultures and people.

Together, these experiences helped me to realize the culturally relative reasons why others have different beliefs and behaviors, and as a result, I learned about empathy, compassion, and personal flexibility. I now feel closer to them as other humans, and can better appreciate their values and priorities. A lesson that is not only useful to me as a human and doctor but also as a practitioner who can now understand medical issues from a public health perspective.

By interacting and learning in this way, I have now developed a deep appreciation for public health and the social determinants of health. I saw first hand how culture alters health behaviors and beliefs, and better understand how social inequality between countries and inside a country determines patients health outcomes.

Two girls in white coats smiling

Myself and one of my classmates on the medical floor at the hospital

Given this, I now realize how important it is that organizations like the Global Education in Medicine Exchange (GEMx) exist. Programs like this support and facilitate students exchange in an affordable and accessible way that helps to build the kind of global understanding we need to improve health outcomes globally.

After this experience, I strongly feel that foreign exchange should be an essential part of medical training because students will develop culturally sensitive medical skills and learn about the importance of the social determinants of health in both a medical and public health context.

I am grateful for the opportunity GEMx afforded me, and know that it has made me a better human and doctor, and hope it can do the same for many more students to come.


GEMx Student Ambassador Network (SAN) Video Competition: Round 2

Filed under: From GEMx Staff GEMx Student Ambassador Network GEMx Student Reflections

Post by Justin Seeling, GEMx Program Manager

Inspired by the success of the first round of video competition earlier this year, GEMx’s Student Ambassador Network (SAN) recently held another round of competition to allow students from our Partner Schools to record  and submit short videos showcasing their institutions and/or local culture.

We are excited to share the winning submissions with you!

GEMx’s Student Ambassador Network (SAN) recently held a “sequel” to our previous video competition, asking students from our Partner Schools to record short videos showcasing their institutions and/or local culture.

The video that we received from Josefa Santa María and Maria Jose Ayala Rivero, students at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Escuela de Medicina, is a great example of how GEMx Student Ambassadors are reaching students at their school and providing information about the any opportunities allotted with being part of the GEMx network! The video was awarded recognition from GEMx staff for being the “Most Informative” among all entries.

The video that we received from from Yu Aun (Jason) Chin, a student at SEGi University & Colleges (Malaysia) provides a great overview of student life at this GEMx partner institution! The video was awarded recognition from GEMx staff for being having the “Best Video Production” among all entries.

The video that we received from Bruno Marcarini and Clara Schneider, students at Escola Superior de Ciências da Santa Casa de Misericórdia de Vitória Faculdade de Medicina (EMESCAM) (Brazil), is an example of how student representatives are providing information to their classmates about the elective opportunities offered through GEMx! The video was awarded recognition from GEMx staff for being the “Most Creative” among all entries.

Thanks to all of our students who contributed videos!  If you are a student who is a member of a GEMx partner and would like to submit a video of student life at your school or your experiences on a GEMx Exchange, please write to

A Firsthand Account of the Devastating Earthquake That Hit Central Mexico on September 19, 2017

Filed under: GEMx Student Reflections

We here at GEMx have valued the development of reciprocal, supportive and enduring relationships with the students we serve well after their exchanges are behind them. We also understand that expanded perspectives and growth opportunities occur in individual daily lives as much as through international travel and exchanges, which is why we are especially honored to share an introspective account by one such student. – Carol Noel Russo, GEMx Senior Coordinator

Photo of post author, Mercedes

Mercedes Aguilar Soto

Post by Mercedes Aguilar Soto, Medical Student at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Facultad de Medicina (Mexico) who recently completed a GEMx Elective at PAGNY (New York)

The Earthquake

I have lived my whole life in Mexico City, I was born here, I studied here and I will probably continue living here. I always tell people I have a love-hate relationship with this city because it has a lot of problems but at the same time it has a lot to offer to its citizens and visitors.

As I said before I studied here and I have done my medical training in hospitals in this city. Right now I am doing my intern year in a very big hospital that was founded around the 1900’s and has been working since. I am currently finishing my rotation in Emergency Medicine, which is one of the busiest areas of the hospital and I stay there for 24-hour shifts every three days.

This last September, Mexico City and other cities in Mexico experienced two devastating earthquakes, and I was in the hospital on call during both of them. The first one, on September 7th happened around midnight. Since Mexico is considered a seismic zone, alarms have been installed around the city and they are supposed to get activated as soon as there is an earthquake detected in the coast of Mexico, which gives us around 30-60 seconds to evacuate buildings.

This first earthquake was scary, but we all had enough time to leave the building and to make sure everything and everyone was OK. I called my family immediately since we live in one of the high-risk zones and was happy to hear that everybody was doing all right. Other zones of Mexico, especially Oaxaca were really affected, but Mexico City seemed to be doing fine.

I must say that earthquakes in my hospital are scary, not only for its location in a high risk zone, but because in 1985, on September 19th a huge earthquake hit Mexico City and damaged a lot of buildings including several towers in this hospital including the OB/Gyn tower, the residency and several others. I still have professors who remember friends who died during that horrible earthquake, which is why we always get an uneasy feeling whenever there is an earthquake.

The next morning, on September 8th, engineers and safety staff checked the whole hospital and told us it was suitable for working, so everything went on like nothing had happened. When I came home my mother hugged me really hard and I realized she had been very worried since she remembered the hardships the hospital went through in 1985. But luckily we were all fine. However, we did not expect another earthquake to happen so soon.

Every year on September 19th, as a way to remember the 1985 earthquake and to remind us all of the protocol to follow in case of this kind of disaster, in all schools, hospitals and offices; an evacuation drill is performed so that we are all informed on what we are supposed to do in case there is a real earthquake.

This last September around eleven in the morning, we were all requested to evacuate the building and count the number of people to see if we were all complete. After the drill everybody went back to work like nothing had happened. As usual, the ER was full of people and we were all doing our jobs as we normally do. Later on, I was running some tests on a patient when one of my colleagues told me that an earthquake was beginning. I turned around to ask her about it because I didn’t hear the alarm and I didn’t feel anything, but as soon as I turned my head I felt the floor pulling me to one side and realized it was a strong earthquake, but luckily I was close to the door so I was out of the building in ten seconds. Later on we discovered the alarm wasn’t activated before the earthquake because the epicenter was not in the coast but close to land so the usual alarms were not able to detect it.

While we waited for the earthquake to stop I saw nurses praying and a friend of mine crying because she was really scared. I grabbed her hand and told her everything would be OK, only to find myself wanting to cry too and with my hands sweating. The earthquake probably lasted a minute or so, but it felt like forever. When it was finally over, the chief of service and the safety staff started counting everybody and told us to walk calmly to another safety zone.

While all this was happening I was receiving texts from my family who were all in different places around the city. My father was walking back home from his office, when he realized there was an earthquake happening and he started running towards my house. On his way he found one of the many buildings that fell down and with his hands still shaking he took a picture of it. He continued running to my house, to find that luckily it was still in place.  After telling us he was doing fine and that our house was OK he sent us the picture of the building, and then news started running in the hospital: there were a lot of buildings that had fallen down and rescuers were on their way.  My boyfriend called me, almost crying, and told me that buildings had been falling down around the city. I realized that this had been a terrible earthquake.

A photo of some of the devastation caused by the Mexico City earthquake

For several minutes we didn’t know what to do, we were waiting for instructions from the engineers when we started smelling gas, which is one of the many dangers of an earthquake: the leakage of gas from cylinders and tanks that get broken during the movement. Since the source of the leakage was unknown we received orders to evacuate the building until further notice, but we needed to take the patients out. I was worried that there could be an explosion any minute, especially since all hospitals have oxygen pipes than run under the hospital, but I stayed and tried to help getting out the patients.

After an hour or so we were told that the leakage was outside the hospital and that it had been taken care of, so we were safe to go back to the building. The rest of the hospital tried to discharge all of their patients, since we didn’t know how many injured people we would get. The attending in charge came to all of the interns and told us that those of us who wanted could leave if we needed to, and if we had a night shift that day only half of us were expected to stay. I talked to my friends and we all decided to stay, even a friend whose father was in the ICU in another hospital that was rumored to be damaged and another friend who hadn’t heard from her family.

Since the number of injured people was unknown we received orders to discharge all patients that could be discharged so there could be enough space available for rescued people that might come from all over the city. However, the hospital in which I work is not specialized in trauma so all the patients were first sent to trauma hospitals.


A Regional Exchange at the University of Malawi College of Medicine

Filed under: GEMx Regional Exchanges GEMx Student Reflections

a smiling student

Post by John Baptist Ssenyondwa
GEMx exchange student from Makerere University School of Medicine 

John standing outside of the Queen Elizabeth Hostipal

My first day at Queen Elizabeth

Medical school without a clinical rotation outside the teaching hospital environment of one’s training is not comprehensive enough. Through elective rotations, medics are exposed to the different experiences that come with working in a different setting from one’s training facility. I was one of the students that got the opportunity to take part in the GEMx Electives program this year. It was last semester for me and not only was I looking forward to completing medical school but also engaging in a clinical rotation for the weary holiday prior to internship. I had tried to apply for several programs that I could enroll in before I started internship but in all in vain.

As I walked through the busy schedules of school, the call for applications by GEMx Electives came to my notice and so came the interest to apply to take part. I had always wanted to travel as a student to a different medical school for an exchange program that would contribute to building my future career as a doctor. I immediately logged into my new GEMx account to find out the available universities for elective applications. I also found out that I was under the GEMx- South to South program which included University of Witwatersrand in South Africa;  College Medicine in Malawi, Makerere University and University of Rwanda. The days passed by and three weeks later on, I received the good news that my application had been accepted for the elective rotation at Malawi University College of Medicine. Filled with joy, I shared my good news with friends who were happy for me.

Malawi is divided into the central, northern and southern regions with 28 districts. The college of medicine is located in Blantyre, which is found in the southern region of Malawi. Having been established in 1992, it is the only medical school in the country with four undergraduate courses offered which include the five-year-long Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS), and the four-year-long programs of Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Sciences (BMLS), Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Hon) and Bachelor of Pharmacy (Hon). For a greater portion most of my rotation, the College was on holiday and therefore I had appropriate contact time with the senior lecturers however limited interaction with the other students.

surgery being performed

Assisting surgical theater at Mercy James Centre for Paediatric Surgery and Intensive Care

The first official day of my elective found me at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in the Surgical Annex for the handover meeting held daily. Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital is the largest government tertiary unit and main teaching hospital for the College of Medicine. The hospital handles the referrals from the districts surrounding Blantyre. I was oriented through the facility ends and corners so that I could get my bearings well thereafter. I was introduced to the head of department, Surgery and each individual on the team I was joining in paediatric surgery. I rotated through paediatric surgery for first three weeks and one week at Beit Cure International Hospital.

Cure Malawi is a 58 bed teaching specialized in treating orthopedic needs of children and adults opened in 2002. The hospital also has special expertise in total hip and knee replacement surgery, making it one of the few places where this surgery is available in Sub-Saharan Africa. The hospital treats a wide range of orthopedic conditions including clubfoot, burn contractures, osteomyelitis, and other acquired or congenital conditions. In addition, CURE Malawi also provides physiotherapy and chiropractic services.

Table of Metrics

Table I. The cases observed and assisted in Paediatric Surgery rotation at the MJC theatre


Table of Metrics

Table II. The different surgeries participated in at Beit Cure International Hospital

While at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, I attended the handover meeting first before heading out for the day’s work each day. At these sessions, a 24 hour recap of the cases handled by the department was held and these cases discussed by the resident doctors together with the respective surgical teams of General Surgery, paediatric and orthopedic surgery.

Ward rounds were conducted daily by a senior consultant and residents on the different wards. The wards included: Paediatric Surgical Ward at the Mercy James Center; Chatinkha Neonatal Unit; Paediatric Nursery Ward; Paediatric Oncology Ward.  At the ward rounds, I was able to see several of the common conditions in paediatric surgery most of which I hadn’t seen during my school rotation. Additionally, we were able to discuss the conditions with the consultants and learn the approach to managing the ailments.

While in paediatric surgery, I was able to attend 3 ward rounds in a week. At the ward rounds, I was able to see several of the common conditions in paediatric surgery most of which I hadn’t seen during my school rotation. Additionally, we were able to discuss the conditions with the consultants and learn the approach to managing the ailments.

The OPD [Out Patient Department] ran every Monday afternoon after the rounds. While at the clinic I participated in eliciting history from the patients, examining and discussing with the consultants the different cases. This was a special learning experience as we saw several patients with a variety of conditions and therefore I always had various conditions to study. I had assignments to do every clinic and this facilitated my learning throughout the rotation. It was exciting to be in theatre and take part in the management of patients. I worked in theatre on Tuesday till Thursday for about seven hours each day.

surgery being performed

Assisting through the operations at Beit Cure Hospital

The rotation at Cure hospital was one week during which I rotated through the OPD clinic, theater and the wards. The OPD clinic also ran on Monday the entire day. I attended one clinic day of which we saw 30 patients with various orthopedic conditions. I was well facilitated by Dr. Lubega Nicholas, an orthopedic surgeon at cure who always discussed and ensured I followed through the activities at the facility.

I also attended teaching seminars at Cure hospital with the resident orthopedic students. Much as the cases discussed at these seminars were beyond my scope, I was able to learn the basic concepts on how to diagnose and know who to refer to. I learned the basic surgical skills employed generally in the field of surgery. I also took part in the general surgical management of the patients admitted at Cure, assisting in the various operations at the facility.

natural waterfall and pools

At Dziwe Lankhalamba Waterfall

While in Blantyre, I toured several beautiful places around the town during the weekends which also rejuvenated me throughout the rotation. I hiked Mulanje Mountain the highest peak in Malawi and visited several other sites like Mandala historical site among others. I met so many people and made quite a number of friends both within the medical field and other fields.

During my stay in Blantyre, I was able to work in a different environment with warm people eager and committed to improving the health of their patients. Despite the fact that the setting was much similar to my training hospital, I was able to achieve the objectives of my rotation.

I was able to develop and build my confidence in proper approach to pediatric surgical cases. My diagnostic acumen depending on history taking from the patients without need to depend on newer imaging diagnostic modalities was greatly improved. I was trained by highly qualified surgeons in the basic surgical skills and technique employed in the operation theatre which is a lifelong skill obtained.

group of young people

With new friends

The rotation greatly supplemented my prior curricular clinical rotation in which some concepts and topics had been unsatisfactorily taught. I was able to deeply appreciate and understand some of the topics clearly through the ward round discussions with my supervisors and mentors. Throughout the rotation, I had ample time to read up the cases I saw on the ward and in theater. I was also able to identify the deficiencies associated with our African health systems and how these impact on the health of our patients. I met different individuals practicing in the medical field and made friends throughout my rotation and stay in Blantyre. It was great interacting and socializing with people from all over the world but with similar goals and interests. I was able to share several ideas and experiences with my new friends and establish career building relationships.


A Journey from Medicine to Health

Filed under: GEMx Sponsored Events GEMx Student Reflections

Photo of the blog author, Dr. Myron Godinho

Dr. Myron Godinho

Post by Dr. Myron A. Godinho

Research Associate,
Public Health Evidence South Asia (PHESA),
(South Asian satellite of the Cochrane Public Health Group)
Manipal University,

Public policy has always been an issue of great interest to me. The task of decision- making for societal development and progress is exciting and terrifying, when one considers the immense responsibility that such a role carries. Such decisions ought to be transparent, and should be justifiable to all the stakeholders involved, especially taxpayers and end-users. This conviction led to my involvement in Model United Nations (MUN) conferences in high school, where I participated as a delegate in various councils, and chaired the General Assembly at the national Bahrain MUN. At medical school, it baffled me that the most phenomenal discoveries in health science were unable to produce the paradigm shifts in human progress that their pioneers had initially envisioned. If health was such an egalitarian topic, why do some societies experience exponentially better health than others? As I engaged with patients throughout my clinical postings, the social determinants of health pointed towards converging disease pathways: it became apparent that the foundational systems of modern societies were not designed with health in mind.

Myron with Justin and Dr. Ciraj

Justin, Dr. Ciraj and I

With this understanding and my high school background in policy, I collaborated with college faculty and the student council at Melaka Manipal Medical College (MMMC), in Malaysia, to offer students a platform to foster debate and discussion on pertinent global health issues. Having harnessed their support, I conceptualized/developed MedMUN (Medical Model United Nations) by contextualizing the Model United Nations policy debate platform for deployment among health professions students of various disciplines. With the help of the student body, we recruited a mixed group of medical, dental and pre-medical (foundation year) students to participate in the initiative. After participating in four, weekly training sessions (involving presentations, groups sessions and peer learning), the students then participated in the 1st MedMUN debate where they discussed international maternal surrogacy legislation.

After I completed my MBBS studies, I was keenly looking for opportunities to deploy MedMUN in larger, more diverse settings, with an interprofessional focus. It was during this networking, that my teacher at MMMC in Manipal campus strongly encouraged me to submit my research entry for the Student Projects for Health competition by GEMx for the World Summit for Social Accountability 2017.  It was a proud moment to know that my project was selected and funded to be presented at this esteemed Summit at Tunisia. It was extremely special and exciting as this was my first international conference experience (please modify this statement). Through the Facebook group and mails from the other winners during our pre-conference preparation, I began to see the strong links that previous student winners had developed with each other, facilitated by the hard work of the GEMx and FAIMER teams. I was also fortunate enough to meet Justin Seeling during his trip to Manipal for the IQMU, and see the face behind the patient and helpful e-mails that would regularly keep me posted on developments in the run-up to the conference. A few months later, armed with my poster and travel bag, I boarded the plane to Tunisia with Dr. Ciraj and much excitement.

Disembarking at the airport, I met with a number of people, who, like me, were protectively clutching large cardboard tubes. Introducing myself, I found myself surrounded by other medical students, each with their own stories and experiences. Together, in a place we’d never before been to, we finally found our way to the waiting buses and were off to Hammamet. The bus ride took us out of the city and into the lush Mediterranean countryside. Acres of olive gardens and farms flanked the winding highway that carried us, set to the backdrop of a mountain range in a national park. The warm sun and the rhythmic sway of the bus lulled me to sleep, and I woke just as we arrived at the conference venue. It looked more like a little walled village than it did a hotel; and I learned that that was exactly what a medina was. After hovering in the lobby to finalise registration formalities, we were off, led by a sprightly young concierge to our respective rooms to freshen up. Once I was done, I headed out to explore the medina. The ‘souk’ was lined with shops, replete with salesmen peddling their wares: food, clothes, souvenirs, incense, olive wood carvings. A metalworker tapped away with his hammer, engraving a metal plate as I watched intently. Sitting at an outdoor restaurant, I learnt about harissa chilli and ‘brik’, a traditional Tunisian pastry. Soon after, a snake charmer sent a live snake down my shirt while three cobras swayed lazily on a stage. I decided that that was quite enough excitement for one evening and instead went in search of the nearby Mediterranean shoreline and a quiet dinner of mixed mezzeh and a delicious steak.

Myron presenting at TUFH

Presenting during the conference

The next morning I met most of the other SPFH winners; each of us sharing our travel experiences and our mutual excitement at having made it to the conference successfully despite various obstacles. The conference began in full swing, and we were introduced to the Student Network Organisation (SNO) – an excited bunch of well- intentioned, enthusiastic medical students from all corners of the globe who networked and collaborated with other organisations (e.g. IFMSA) to promote a proactive approach to medical education. We all introduced ourselves and were immediately involved in a group activity that highlighted the main conference themes. There were large cohorts of students from some countries in particular, but language and culture was no barrier whatsoever. A powerful sense of community and inclusion prevailed, and it wasn’t long before we, the new additions, were making impromptu presentations and securing new friends through it all. We were encouraged to maintain our involvement and affiliation with the organisation by assuming positions of responsibility in the secretariat, as regional representatives, or in the many other professional bodies affiliated with the THE Network:TUFH.  I myself signed up to be a journalist for the quarterly newsletter and recently published in the June 2017 issue.

A blue door in Tunisia
Over the next two days we were given the opportunity to present our posters, receive feedback and questions, and learn from the experiences of our peers. It opened my eyes to the different ways design and implementation challenges could be overcome to achieve better community health outcomes. I was particularly enamoured by other projects which, like mine, had focused on capacity building in health policy and systems to foster systemic change in the way that health systems ensured the basic health status of their populace. This conference offered me the opportunity to network with people working towards similar goals as myself, and learn from their experiences while sharing mine too. It truly was a mutually beneficial experience for us all. Through further seminars organised by the SNO, we discussed with, and received valuable advice from, potential mentors; drafted a policy statement representing the views of the international medical student community; and thought deeply about our roles and responsibilities in society at large. It was a wakeup call, and a most welcome one too.

The summit was not without ample opportunities to socialise and mingle with our peers in a ‘less structured’ setting. Each evening provided another exciting opportunity to meet up with our newfound friends and discuss work, play, and everything in between. We were also able to take a tour of the historic city of Carthage, and visit Sidi Bou Said to capture some iconic photos of the region and make some great memories. Overall, the amalgamation of intellectually stimulating conversations, silly shenanigans, and barefoot midnight strolls through the freezing surf of the Mediterranean made for a heady, addictive concoction of experiences.

Tunisian metal engraving

Metal engraving

Because of the opportunity offered to me through the generosity of GEMx and FAIMER, I am encouraged to continue pursuing a career in public health, with a focus on evidence to inform health policy; and have a renewed passion to continue building capacity to improve health policy and system restructuring in India. My immediate aims are to publish my work in a peer-reviewed journal, and I look forward to collaborating with my new network of colleagues on future projects. Encouraged by the success of the project I presented, I’ve submitted more of my work for conference presentation opportunities, and will be presenting another recent project at the International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication in Chicago, September 2017. This experience has undoubtedly helped to shape my career; I will soon be pursuing postgraduate studies in health technology assessment (HTA), to use medical research together with health economics to inform resource-allocation decision in public healthcare systems for Universal Health Coverage (UHC). While much work remains to be done, the knowledge that I am just one of many who share this vision is a great source of encouragement and motivation for me.

I might be tempted to say that the World Summit for Social Accountability 2017 was a truly ‘once in a lifetime experience’, but that would be to understate my desire to participate in such a conference again. No, it was a truly momentous experience; one that I hope to, once again, be a part of in the near future.