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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”