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
The trip was made possible through Emorys 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 Emorys 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 resourcesyet still
achieve good results.
It was an awesome experience, said Van Dam, a fourth-year Emory medical resident at Grady.
The people in India dont 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
We need to sensitize physicians to resource management, and at
Emory, were 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.
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, Gradys 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 residents area
of specialization should have far-reaching impact on the residents
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.
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
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.