(September 20, 2001, Gazette)

International medical students enjoy experience
‘The hiking is wonderful’

(L-R) Katja Worzfeld and Ronen Elishar

(L-R) Katja Worzfeld and Ronen Elishar

Katja Worzfeld and Ronen Elishar are medical students at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. But right now they are studying surgery in St. John’s through the Faculty of Medicine’s Undergraduate Medical Electives Program.

Under this program, medical students from other universities may stay in the province for a maximum of eight weeks for clinical or research electives. It’s a popular program internationally, particularly in Germany. Last year the Undergraduate Medical Education Office received about 450 inquiries – of this number, 75 students were placed, including 25 Canadians and about 30 from German universities.

Katja and Ronen consider themselves lucky to have been accepted. “We wanted to do an elective in Canada and we applied to many universities before finally being accepted at Memorial,” said Ronen, an Israeli who entered medical studies at the University of Heidelberg after three years military service in his own country.

Katja grew up in the southern part of Germany, and like many European medical students entered medical school directly at age 19. At Memorial, students must first complete a bachelor’s degree in any subject before applying to medical school. It takes six years to complete a medical degree in Germany (at Memorial it’s a four-year program).

One of the great attractions for international students at Canadian medical schools is direct contact with patients. While medical students at Memorial are in clinical settings very early in their studies, Katja and Ronen explained that they have only had hospital experience in their final year of studies.

Having grown up in the Alps, Katja is an ardent hiker and both she and Ronen have already explored many of the hiking trails around St. John’s. “The hiking here is wonderful,” said Katja last week during an interview with the Gazette at St. Clare’s Hospital.

Ronen added, “We went to Gros Morne in early September and now we are planning a weekend trip to Cape Spear.”

Like many international students, Ronen and Katja are fluent in a number of languages. Besides his mother tongue of Hebrew, Ronen speaks French, Italian, German and English. In addition to German, Katja speaks English, French and Italian.

Dr. Thomas Scott, assistant dean for undergraduate medical education in the Faculty of Medicine, enjoys the constant flow of international students through Memorial. “Even though we can’t take everyone who applies, we know that the students who are accepted are grateful and eager to learn. The experience at Memorial University and in the province is something they will never forget.”

Dr. Scott said that processing the clinical applications is a lot of work, particularly for secretary Ruth Alivio, but it’s a service the Faculty of Medicine is pleased to offer. Ms. Alivio agreed it is a lot of work, but she enjoys the job. Her main concern is processing the applications carefully and ensuring that students from other countries are fluent in English and have sufficient funding to cover all associated costs, including malpractice insurance.

The two students interviewed by the Gazette are certainly thankful that Memorial University has accommodated their studies. When they finish their eight-week elective in mid-October they will return to Germany. As to the future, Ronen plans to specialize in surgery and Katja plans to pursue post-graduate training in child and adolescent psychiatry.