Four senior medical students from Tokyo Women’s Medical University (TWMU) got a unique perspective on the similarities and differences between medical education and health care systems in Japan and the U.S during a month-long visit to Penn State College of Medicine.
“Our goal was to expose the students to American medicine and education and give them a greater appreciation for our culture and how we provide care to underserved patients in the U.S.,” said Dr. Michael Flanagan, assistant dean for student affairs at the College of Medicine.
The first group of two spent two weeks at Penn State College of Medicine’s Hershey, Pa., campus and two weeks at the State College, Pa., campus, while the second group visited the campuses in reverse.
Designing a Diverse Experience
Flanagan and Dr. Sheila Nguyen, assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the College of Medicine, designed a multidisciplinary curriculum. The TWMU students rotated through numerous specialties. The students also visited Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Mount Nittany Medical Center and interacted with nursing students at Penn State College of Nursing.
Stops at the community-based Centre Volunteers in Medicine clinic in State College and the student-run LionCare clinic in Tyrone, Pa., gave the TWMU students the opportunity to observe care for patients who don’t have health insurance.
“The TWMU chancellor requested that we involve their students in community-based activities like these as much as possible,” Flanagan said.
Other classes included arts in medicine (watercolor painting and mask making), tai chi and medical writing. “The emphasis on humanities shows that Penn State puts great importance on treating patients holistically, and it’s one reason why I chose to come here,” said TWMU student Ayaka Iijima.
Halfway through their journey, the four students met in State College, where they experienced a uniquely American tradition—Penn State’s Blue-White football game.
Gaining a Multicultural Perspective
The visit highlighted differences between medical education in the two nations. While U.S. medical students spend four years on undergraduate education and another four years in medical school, medical students in Japan begin their secondary education with a six-year medical school program.
The U.S.-Japan medical school education cultures also contrast sharply. “In Japan, medical students typically do not spend as much time talking to patients in clinical settings,” Nguyen said. “So, (the TWMU students) were surprised to see medical students speaking up and residents talking with patients and families and explaining the care plan.”
That personal connection with patients was a big learning experience for TWMU student Ayaka Gamo.
“In the U.S., doctors talk to patients for a long time, while in Japan one patient is sometimes seen in just five minutes. I think it’s good for the patient to talk for a long time, so they can learn to trust the doctors.”
While this was the first time TWMU students visited Penn State College of Medicine, medical students from the College of Medicine visited TWMU in both 2017 and 2018.
“Experiencing different perspectives on the health system and the roles everyone plays helps to make our medical students better clinicians,” said Lindsey Kline, manager of the College’s Global Health Center. The college will host students from Australia later this year.
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