Salem Alfaifi hopes to complete his medical residency at the University of Arizona, but until recently he’d never set foot on campus. In fact, he’d never set foot in the United States until a new partnership between the UA and Alfaifi’s university in Saudi Arabia allowed him to spend time observing UA College of Medicine physicians at The University of Arizona Medical Center.
Alfaifi is one of nine medical students from King Khalid University who are finishing a seven-week observational rotation at The University of Arizona Medical Center this week. The students were the first to participate in the program, which is part of a larger partnership between the UA and the Saudi Arabian university.
“It was a great experience,” said Alfaifi, who spent much of the last several weeks observing Dr. Baldassarre Stea, head of the UA's department of radiation oncology. “We got to experience the U.S. health system.”
Earlier this year, the UA and Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid University entered into a five-year master service agreement to help facilitate more cross-cultural collaboration between the two institutions, said Dale LaFleur, the UA’s director of institutional relations. The College of Medicine is just the first UA entity to develop a program under the new agreement, which was established after King Khalid University expressed interest in working with the UA, she said.
Dr. Bruce Coull, professor of neurology and medicine and associate dean for clinical affairs for the UA College of Medicine, who worked closely with the visiting students, said collaborating with other medical schools is a worthy endeavor.
“The University of Arizona wants to have a major impact in Arizona and the region, but also wants to be a player on the world stage,” he said.
The College of Medicine program allowed the visiting students to observe physicians in their areas of interest and interact one-on-one with patients by taking patient histories and helping with physical exams. They also had the chance to learn some of the ins and outs of health care in the U.S.
“We wanted to experience a different culture and a different health system and learn how it’s different than things back home,” said Sara Alshehri, one of two Saudi Arabian women in the visiting group. Alshehri spent time working in emergency medicine, surgery and plastic surgery.
While health-care basics are similar in the two countries, the students say they have observed some marked differences, particularly with regard to the way health-care systems are organized and the structure of medical education. For example, students in Saudi Arabia begin six years of medical school directly after high school.
“Our university sent us here to see how things go on on the other side of the world,” said Abdalmajed S. Eisa, who’s interested in obstetrics and gynecology. “I wanted to know where we are going in the Saudi health system.”
Eisa said he was surprised to discover that some of the best physicians in the world work at the UA.
“I would definitely recommend my friends come here,” he said. “The programs are strong, and I got to see so many cases in a short period of time.”
Dr. Adel Alhazzani, chairman of the department of medical biochemistry and head of the International Exchange Program Committee at King Khalid University’s College of Medicine, wrote in an email that he hopes the exchange program will help his students explore their interests and career goals while introducing them to a different culture.
“We believe that the experienced staff and educators, state-of-the-art facilities and the friendly teaching environment at the UA will provide a great learning experience to our students and fulfill our goals,” wrote Alhazzani, who is also a vascular and interventional neurologist and assistant professor of neurology. “On the other hand, having our students evaluated in a different institute is a way of ‘benchmarking,’ which can give us valuable information about our education standards.”
He added: “We look forward to hearing their feedback about things that we can adopt in our system here and ways to improve future programs.”