“It was a huge honor and an incredible experience,” Berrie Center pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Natasha Leibel said about her recent trip to Austria where she participated in the 2016 Salzburg Medical Seminars. Started by the American Austrian Foundation in 1993, the Salzburg Medical Seminars are a postgraduate medical program that links physicians from leading American medical schools, with talented doctors (called fellows, for purposes of the seminar) who practice medicine in Eastern and Central Europe, Central Asia, former republics of the Soviet Union and other countries in transition around the world.
For the last three years, Dr. Robin Goland, Co-Director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, has gathered a team of clinicians to teach a week-long course on diabetes. This year she tapped Dr. Natasha Leibel for the first time, as well as Dr. Utpal Pajvani; Dr. Michael Roden from the Institute for Clinical Diabetology at the University of Dusseldorf; and Dr. Nebojsa Lalic, Dean of Medical Faculty at the University of Belgrade.
Recently, Dr. Leibel sat down to talk about her impressions of the seven days she spent in Austria (May 15 to May 21, 2016) as an instructor of diabetes at the 2016 Salzburg Medical Seminar: Here is some of what she had to say:
Each day started with lectures, she recalled, “nothing specific to pediatrics or adult diabetes. I talked about the treatment of type 1 diabetes with insulin, insulin pumps and sensors. I talked about diabetic ketoacidosis, the multidisciplinary team we have at the Berrie Center to take care of patients, and MODY and other rare forms of diabetes.
The bulk of the days were spent with participating fellows presenting cases to visiting professors. “This was always fascinating,” said Dr. Leibel, “because that’s where you saw how they manage their patients with the limited supplies they have access to.” For example, she said, all of the fellows knew about insulin pumps and sensors, but only a third, had actual access to them for their patients.
“Even test strips are rarities in other parts of the world,” she said, “so people check their blood sugar only once a day instead of 10 times a day the way we do in this country. And they have to stand in long lines waiting for whatever resources are available. It’s very tough. Very eye-opening. It made me grateful to be able practice medicine in this country.”
The cases presented were complicated, said Dr. Leibel. A lot were focused on trying to better understand MODY “and other forms of diabetes that don’t fit in the bucket of type 1 or type 2,” she said. “They don’t have access to the same testing we do—meaning they can’t just send out a blood test for MODY and get a result—so as a result, they were extremely interested in our opinions and how we might treat a given problem differently than they might.”
Dr. Leibel spoke in particular about a doctor from Africa who was managing diabetes and Tuberculosis. “We heard about situations that are very unusual for us here, but are problems seen regularly in other parts of the world,” she said.
It was amazing for Dr. Leibel, she said, to be able to observe up close the humanitarian aspect of practicing medicine. “No matter where you are from, medicine brings people together for the best of causes. I loved that these doctors want the best for their patients and come from all over the world to learn from us. They were all so astounded and amazed and appreciative of everything we taught them. I think it showed them what is possible in the treatment of diabetes in 2016.”