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June 25, 2001

Pilot program sends doctors to India

By Alicia Sands Lurry


V.R. Rao, an Emory physician and medical director for Rehabilitation Therapy Services at Grady, and Alaric Van Dam, chief resident in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, recently studied rehabilitation medicine in India under the direction of Joy Patankar, associate professor of orthopedics and traumatology at L.T.M. Medical College and Hospital in Bombay.

The trip was made possible through Emory’s new pilot program, “International Rotation: Global Perspectives In Human Care,” which is specifically designed for medical residents and students, but open to faculty in other departments, giving them first-hand experience with diseases they may not otherwise see in the United States.

Emory is the first university of its kind to offer an international rotation in India in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

While in India, Rao and Van Dam accompanied a group of Indian doctors and anesthesiologists, led by Patankar, for treatments of a spectrum of diseases such as polio, cerebral palsy, gait abnormalities, multiple injuries and congenital deformities, as part of Emory’s efforts to increase awareness of the issues involved in world health care, and to further clinical exposure to a wide variety of diseases. The rotation also allowed medical practitioners to exchange academic ideas and appreciate health care operations under extremely limited resources.

Unlike doctors in the United States, many Indian physicians work with minimal, even antiquated, equipment and medical resources—yet still achieve good results.

“It was an awesome experience,” said Van Dam, a fourth-year Emory medical resident at Grady.

“The people in India don’t have many resources and high-tech equipment, but there are low infection rates, and countries like that do just fine.”

Van Dam and Rao visited several hospitals with Patankar throughout India, traveling from Bombay to Guhagar, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. Physicians saw more than 200 cases during the trip, which took place over two weeks in January.

Many of the patients were treated for serious diseases ranging from leprosy, club feet, congenital spine and knee deformities, to cerebral palsy, shortening of calf muscles, lobster claw deformities, jaw fractures, and polio, among others. Only the most severe cases received corrective surgery.

Rao, a native of Bombay, and founder of the rotation program, said one of its main purposes was to show physicians how other cultures use rehabilitation medicine.

“We need to sensitize physicians to resource management, and at Emory, we’re all about producing global physicians with global capabilities,” Rao said. “We also want to expose our physicians to other diseases in other nations and how other cultures use rehabilitation medicine.”

The program already has received praise for the work done in India. For example, the Rotary Club of Ratnagiri sponsored the post-polio corrective surgery camp and welcomed the physicians to town.
Several School of Medicine physicians have heartily endors-ed the effort.

“The population base in India is certainly one that is unique and from which, I believe, the residents can learn a great deal,” said William Sexson, Grady’s associate dean for clinical affairs.

“Additionally, it appears the organization of indigent health care in disadvantaged populations also is an extremely valuable experience with direct applicability to the residents’ clinical practice in the United States,” Sexson said. “To the extent that we can figure out ways to effectively deliver care in a low-cost setting, we will be successful in both countries.”

“I believe such exchanges can be wonderful opportunities to learn from each other,” said Dale Strasser, associate professor and chair of rehabilitation medicine. “My discussion with Dr. Rao and my own visit to India reveals an enormous opportunity for our residents to see an unprecedented depth and breadth of rehabilitation pathology. This international rotation has my complete support and endorsement.”

Rachel Schonberger, division chief in community medicine for the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, is just as enthused about the program, and notes that she would value the experience of an international rotation.

Schonberger said it is an invaluable experience for a physician in training to learn first hand how culture and health care practice interact.

“A brief but intense, well-planned elective in a foreign country, supervised by culturally sensitive mentors in the resident’s area of specialization should have far-reaching impact on the resident’s ability to communicate with patients of many backgrounds,” she said.

Rao now is seeking corporate financial support to ensure the rotation program continues next year.
This year’s program was made possible through public and private donations. Rao now hopes the program will prove meaningful enough to warrant corporate sponsorship. He said funding will be used only for medical training and education.

“We want to put Emory on the map, so that other medical schools will want to produce global physicians and set up a similar rotational experience to help others broaden their horizons,” Rao said. “We also want to broaden physicians’ experience in caring for and treating patients.”

As part of the rotation program, Patankar will visit Grady and Emory physicians later this year to lecture and demonstrate his techniques of pediatric surgery and correctional deformities.


Back to Emory Report June 25, 2001