Students return from Winter School program in Brazil

A pair of fourth-year medical students spent much of July in Brazil learning alongside students from all over the world.

UMMS M4 Mariam Abdulghani (right) with fellow students from around the world at the University of Sao Paulo's 2018 Winter School program for international med students.

Hosted by the University of São Paulo Medical School (FMUSP), a longtime UMMS partner institution, the Winter School program draws dozens of participants from around the world for a two-week educational program that combines classroom learning with visits to the FMUSP-affiliated Hospital das Clinicas. Tim Baerg had been interested in Winter School since his first year at UMMS when he learned about the program from a fellow student who had participated.

“It sounded so fascinating. It took three years, but I was finally able to fit it in this year,” Baerg said. “You get to see cases that you never see here. Like Chagas disease – something you memorize for boards but never actually see in Michigan. We saw the bug that transmits the disease and conducted an autopsy on a heart that has been impacted. It was a really valuable experience and it was also a lot of fun.”

The program itself is free to accepted participants and Global REACH offers small grants to select UMMS students to help offset the cost of traveling to São Paulo, a city of more than 12 million in southeastern Brazil. The two-week course offers multiple curriculum tracks tailored for a variety of interests; Baerg participated in the cardiology section, while fellow M4 Mariam Abdulghani was in the track for neglected tropical diseases.

“I soon found that when discussing neglected tropical diseases, there is more to the story than just clinical work-up. Research pertaining to these diseases is under-funded, often leading to only one form of treatment being available,” said Abdulghani. “The collaboration of many healthcare professionals is also necessary, as social, environmental, and economic factors contribute to the spread of these diseases, as well as management difficulties.”

For participants, Winter School is a unique opportunity to meet and learn with fellow students from other countries. In addition to the US and Brazil, there were learners this year from the UK, Mexico, Columbia, Chile, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Taiwan, and more.

“It is always inspiring when you meet a group of accomplished students who share the same passions that you do,” Abdulghani said. “I was able to learn about their medical schools and hospital systems, and share my experiences as an American medical student.”

Winter School always occurs in July – during Brazil’s winter. Students from UMMS have participated the last four years. The application for the 2019 session is expected to open in March.