Doctors in Training

From Taiwan Review 2018-04-26

Enrollees in the School of Medicine for International Students who have finished the second year of the program take their medical oaths before beginning the clinical clerkship portion of their degree. (Photo courtesy of I-Shou University)

A government-funded scholarship is fostering the next generation of medical professionals from Republic of China (Taiwan) diplomatic allies.


In June last year, 32 international students, sporting flowing black robes and beaming smiles, received their medical degrees during a first-of-its-kind graduation ceremony at I-Shou University (ISU) in southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung City. Hailing from 12 countries spanning Africa, the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific, the young people comprised the inaugural class under a government initiative aimed at strengthening health care expertise and service delivery in Republic of China (Taiwan) diplomatic allies.


Among the recipients was David Alfred from the Marshall Islands. “The experience of studying at ISU was fantastic,” said the 26-year-old, who like his classmates has since returned home to complete a hospital internship. “The university’s well-developed curriculum offered a great balance between classroom and clinical instruction.”


After finishing his one-year internship at Majuro Hospital, the primary tertiary care center in the Marshall Islands, Alfred said he wants to help treat patients with complications from diabetes, a major public health concern in the Pacific island nation. “Many sufferers end up being admitted to the hospital with bone fractures, eye damage, heart disease and other problems,” he said. “There’s a serious lack of doctors to deal with these issues, so I want to become a surgeon and help alleviate this shortage.”


Scholarship recipients participate in rounds at E-Da Hospital, which is located near I-Shou University. (Photo courtesy of I-Shou University)

Free Med School


Launched in 2013, the bachelor’s degree in medicine scholarship for students from diplomatic allies is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and overseen by Taipei City-based International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF), the country’s foremost foreign aid organization. Participants attend the ISU School of Medicine for International Students (SMIS), a division of the university’s College of Medicine established specifically for the initiative.

Program applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and sit written exams and interviews. If successful, they receive full scholarships for the duration of their studies, including airfare, accommodation, insurance, textbooks, tuition and a monthly allowance of NT$15,000 (US$500). To date, 180 people have been accepted into the program.


According to Chen Yun-ju (陳韻如), an associate chair of SMIS, the school is committed to educating students on the latest medical practices, principles and technologies so they can offer cutting-edge patient-centered care. Enrollees also receive training in leadership and management to foster their ability to shape public health policymaking at home and abroad, she said. “It’s our hope they can contribute to overseas humanitarian aid and global health care development.”


The SMIS curriculum is divided into two stages. For their first two years, students take general education and medical science courses at ISU in fields ranging from genetics and human morphology to microbiology and physician-patient communications. All of the lessons are conducted in English, with the exception of mandatory Mandarin language classes. In the final two years, students complete clinical clerkships through participating in rounds and outpatient care at one of two nearby health care facilities, E-Da Hospital and E-Da Cancer Hospital. Both institutions, along with ISU, are affiliated with Kaohsiung-based conglomerate E United Group.


The university uses various aids to teach anatomy, including cutting-edge 3-D imaging systems and human organ models. (Photos by Huang Chung-hsin and courtesy of ISU)

Liang Cheng-loong (梁正隆‬), an associate chair of SMIS and chief of the Department of International Medicine at E-Da Hospital, said the clerkships offer invaluable practical experience in a range of clinical fields. While rotating through different departments, the students can examine patients with their consent and perform noninvasive procedures under the supervision of physicians. Visits are also arranged to community hospitals and clinics to provide insights into the differing health care concerns in urban and rural areas.


As a teaching hospital accredited by U.S.-based Joint Commission International, one of the world’s leading nonprofit patient safety organizations, E-Da boasts a wealth of medical training resources, Liang said. Students are instructed by experienced specialists and gain firsthand knowledge in operating state-of-the-art equipment, he added. This commitment to adopting the latest technologies is shared by ISU, which in 2016 became the first university in Taiwan to install an Anatomage Table, an advanced 3-D anatomy imaging system that allows medical students to virtually dissect human organs and tissue.

Closing the Talent Gap


According to Liang, talent cultivation is a vital, often overlooked component of strengthening health care services in developing nations. “In addition to offering free supplies and services, our hospital has donated equipment to facilities in several diplomatic allies and partner countries,” said the attending neurosurgeon, who has participated in multiple overseas aid missions. “However, later on we discovered some of the devices had broken down or were left unused because no one knew how to maintain or operate them.”


One of the core goals of the medical degree scholarship is to address this lack of expertise. “Increasing the number of doctors in diplomatic allies is a more effective method of providing aid than sending medical missions,” Liang said. “Sustainable health care development requires a steady supply of well-educated medical professionals.”


The scholarship program aims to train the next generation of medical professionals from diplomatic allies. (Photo courtesy of ISU)

Chen said the program also benefits ISU by promoting campus internationalization and boosting the visibility of the university’s medical school. “International exchanges improve learning and teaching outcomes. They help students and faculty appreciate different cultures and enhance their communication skills in English and other languages,” she said.


ISU has dedicated considerable effort to fostering connections with overseas institutions since its establishment in 1990. To date, it has signed sister relations agreements with 299 universities and 214 high schools in 24 nations, while its current student body includes more than 1,970 foreigners from 46 countries and territories. “The success of various measures to internationalize our campus and curriculums makes ISU highly qualified to host the medical scholarship program,” Chen said.

Life-Changing Experience


Carlos Cubero, a second-year SMIS student from Central American diplomatic ally Honduras, said he was drawn to Taiwan by its strong reputation for medical research and leading position in many fields such as robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery. “Taiwan doctors publish a lot of papers and are renowned internationally for their breakthroughs,” he said. “I came here because I wanted to get the best education possible.”


According to the 24-year-old, SMIS has a well-structured curriculum offering clear and practical instruction in all core aspects of modern medicine. “The university’s two affiliated hospitals are equipped with high-tech instruments and devices, allowing us to discover how the latest technologies are used,” he said. “I’m eager to learn about these advances so I can share this knowledge when I return home.”


International students at ISU are encouraged to participate in various sports and cultural activities such as dragon boat racing. (Photos courtesy of ISU)

Cubero noted that the opportunity to study traditional Chinese medicine was another factor in his decision to apply to SMIS. In Honduras, some patients, and particularly the elderly, prefer herbal alternatives to modern medicines, so combining Chinese and Western approaches could prove effective in encouraging them to seek treatment, he said.


Cody Jack, a fourth-year student from the Marshall Islands, is currently completing the clinical clerkship portion of his degree at E-Da Hospital. “Studying at ISU has been amazing as I’ve learned an incredible amount of practical information and skills,” the 27-year-old said. “I’ve no doubt that this program will help me develop the wide range of competencies needed to practice high-quality medicine.”


After finishing high school, Jack earned a bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine biology at Eastern Washington University in the U.S. He later heard about the TaiwanICDF program and decided to apply. “It’s a generous full-ride scholarship. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to receive a free medical education,” he said.

Once he completes his degree in June, Jack plans to return to his country and undertake an internship at a government hospital. His ultimate goal is to specialize in pediatrics and open a clinic in his village, a rural community with limited health care services.


According to Jack, there are only about 20 doctors serving the some 60,000 people in his country. Since the Marshall Islands does not have a medical school, these physicians mostly come from Fiji and the Philippines and few of them are specialists. “My sole motivation for studying medicine is that my country needs me to be a doctor,” he said. “With the help of the Taiwan people, I’m going to do everything I can to achieve my goal.”