Where in the world were Drs. Robin Goland, Lauren Golden and Utpal Pajvani the week before Christmas? The three traveled to Austria to lead a week-long Diabetes Seminar for young physicians who are the rising academic leaders in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and in other countries in transition. Dr. Ruth Weinstock, Head of the Joslin Diabetes Center at SUNY-Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, was the fourth American faculty member teaching in the Diabetes Seminar. Before arriving in Austria, Drs. Goland and Golden traveled to the city of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, to lead a Satellite Diabetes Symposium.
These visiting professorships were part of the Open Medical Institute's Salzburg Medical Seminars, a well-known, international postgraduate educational exchange program established by the American Austrian Foundation “to bridge the knowledge gap between the East and West and North, and South.” The program connects faculty from leading American and Western European medical schools with international physician-trainees (called Fellows) for seminars on major topics in medicine. Faculty members travel to Salzburg and spend one week teaching young, English-speaking Fellows, selected in a competitive process, from more than 100 countries in transition, who would otherwise not have access to this type of education. All faculty serve pro bono. More than 17,489 fellowships were awarded to young physicians, who have attended a seminar. This was the third Salzburg Medical Seminar devoted to diabetes. The seminars are directed by Dr. Goland, J. Merrill Eastman Professor and Berrie Center Co-Director.
Participating in a Salzburg Medical Seminar gives the Fellows an opportunity to host faculty from leading medical schools in the United States in their home countries for a visiting professorship. These visiting faculty, hosted by the Salzburg Fellow, can then educate a larger audience of local physicians about the advances in diabetes with a goal of helping to improve care.
“It is inspiring to lead this seminar because the doctors are incredibly excited to learn and pass on what they’ve learned to their patients as well as students and colleagues,” said Dr. Goland, adding that the breadth of global participation was amazing as always. “For example, one of the Fellows was from Siberia, from a city 6,000 kilometers east of Moscow. Another fellow was from Poland and spent the year before medical school on a Fulbright Scholarship studying organ performance. These Fellows are clearly making a difference to the care of the community and it’s a privilege to try to contribute. We continue to remain in touch with the Fellows after the Diabetes Symposium is over – it’s an ongoing educational process and very rewarding.”
The Fellows are often working very hard to provide the best care possible to their patients with very limited resources, compared to what is often available in Western Europe and the United States.
“In many countries, the availability of glucose test strips and some diabetes medications are limited and in some countries, insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors are basically non-existent,” said Dr. Golden.
Dr. Pajvani observed, “I think that the people who practice medicine in these resource limited settings are, as a consequence, much better doctors than we are. In this country, we rely on technology, MRIs and lab results to practice medicine. They rely on talking, thinking and listening. They can do what they do anywhere.”
Dr. Golden was impressed by how knowledgeable the doctors were, “They have read everything you can possibly read, but what they really loved was their ability to share their case studies with us and that back and forth interaction that they don’t get with theoretical lectures,” said Dr. Golden who was a Russian minor at Williams College. Her Russian language skill was greatly appreciated and admired by the many Fellows who also spoke Russian as well as her non-Russian–speaking colleagues.