The University of Iowa

UI Medical Students to Experience Both Sides of Health Care Systems in West Bank

March 10th, 2011

By Cindy Hadish, SourceMedia Group News

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine has offered global programs throughout the world, but where four students will travel later this month is a first.

The fourth-year medical students will experience the first medical elective in the West Bank.

Not only will the students receive hands-on medical practice, but the group will see, firsthand, the effects of political turmoil on health care.

“The primary goal is to expose students to the disparities between the Palestinian and Israeli health care systems,” said Harb Harb, 26, of Davenport, the trip’s organizer and one of the four students who leave March 25 for the monthlong stint. “It will be an awesome experience for everyone.”

Harb, who has dual American and Palestinian citizenship, spent five years in the West Bank.

His family left after his junior year in high school, but still have their home in Ramallah, where the four can stay during their trip.

Harb will be joined by Michael Bouska, 27, of Dunkerton; Joshua Fischer, 30, of Sioux Center and James Brown, 28, of Waterloo. They will document their experiences in a blog, appropriately called Midwest2Mideast.

Some of the students have volunteered overseas, but none has been in a war-torn area or in refugee camps, one of the places where the group will be practicing.

The United Nations has medical clinics for Palestinian refugees in the camps. Students also will practice in four hospitals in Israel and Ramallah.

Fischer, who has been on medical and service trips to Mexico and Jamaica, said he is more excited than fearful of any problems they might encounter on the trip.

Robin Paetzold, director of global programs for the College of Medicine, said students have been in more than 50 nations in the program’s 30 years.

Goals include making students more culturally competent and providing service to under-resourced communities.

Paetzold receives daily updates on what is happening in the countries to safeguard the students.

Fluent in Arabic, Harb will serve as translator, when needed. Most medical students in the region receive training in English, he said, so the group doesn’t expect many language barriers with other medical staff.

In fact, Harb might experience difficulties that the other students won’t.

Because of his dual citizenship, he must apply for permission to enter Jerusalem and other Palestinian territories under Israel’s control.

If those applications are unsuccessful, the rest of the group can travel without him, he said.

Harb and others have been planning the elective for two years, coordinating with hospitals, the U.N. and other groups.

The students must write two papers upon their return and receive a pass-or-fail grade.

Grants help cover their flights, but they pay for food and other expenses.

Three will be at the UI’s Match Day next week to learn where they will begin their medical residency training following graduation in May.

Bouska, who plans to be an emergency room physician and is interested in global health, is doing one year of research before his residency.

Brown, who is going into pediatrics, hopes the trip will correct his “glaring lack of experience” with places outside the Midwest.

“Certainly, there’s a level of curiosity, dealing with a culture and language I’m not familiar with,” he said. “This is going to be an adventure.”