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UM and major new Israeli medical school begin collaboration

BIU President Moshe Kaveh, standing at right, outlines the goals of the new medical school to the UM delegation and Israeli President Shimon Peres. Seated, from left, are Joseph Rosenblatt, UM professor of medicine; Harold Basch, BIU vice president for research; Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt; UM President Donna E. Shalala; and President Peres.

Led by UM President Donna E. Shalala, a delegation of Miller School officials recently concluded a successful week of high-level meetings in Israel aimed at identifying areas of collaboration and synergy with Bar-Ilan University, as Israel’s largest and fastest-growing university establishes the nation’s fifth medical school.

A research powerhouse with four regional campuses, BIU was chosen earlier this year by Israel’s Council for Higher Education to address Israel’s looming physician shortage by launching a new medical school in the diverse and underdeveloped northern region of Galilee, in the ancient and holy city of Safed.

In a series of July meetings with BIU’s leadership and Israeli President Shimon Peres, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other Israeli officials, President Shalala, Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, and a delegation of prominent UM faculty expressed their eagerness to collaborate with BIU in the development of innovative curriculum, research and clinical programs, the exchange of students, faculty and patients, and the creation of a world-class medical destination in the Galilee.

Motivated by the benefits of cross-institutional collaboration, as well as their close ties to Israel, the Miller School’s Joseph Rosenblatt, professor of medicine and interim director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Michael Lewis, professor of anesthesiology and director of the residency program, initiated the UM-BIU liaison two years ago.

In addition to Lewis and Rosenblatt, both founding members of the planned BIU medical school, the UM delegation also included Eduardo de Marchena, associate dean for international medicine; Mark O’Connell, senior associate dean for educational development; and Robert Pearlman, president and CEO of the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation.

“We initially want to help Bar Ilan University achieve their dream, and their dream is a great medical school in the Galilee. But not just a medical school—a great center of medicine and technology,” President Shalala said. “My hope is that faculty members will go back and forth, that students will go back and forth, that researchers will go back and forth and, to some extent, that patients will go back and forth because many of our patients spend considerable time in Israel.”

Dean Goldschmidt said the collaboration would allow UM to expand its reach and reputation and showcase its expertise and renowned clinical programs in a region of the world where the University already has strong ties and interests. In turn, the University would gain knowledge from Israel’s cutting-edge expertise in nanotechnology, neuroscience, medicinal chemistry, trauma, and emergency medicine.

“The stature of the medical school will increasingly depend on our international outreach and connections,” Dean Goldschmidt said. “So having this relationship in Israel and being able to communicate, collaborate, and exchange students and faculty will positively impact our reputation and what we can accomplish as a medical school and as a university.”

Just as important, Dean Goldschmidt and President Shalala hope that the effort of establishing a world-class medical center to serve the Galilee’s diverse population of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze will build bridges of peace in a region challenged by centuries-old enmities.

“Medicine is a great ambassador for peace,” Dean Goldschmidt noted. “When people work together to save patients’ lives and to apply the great benefits of medicine across ethnic and cultural divides, they learn to get along in pursuit of common goals and overcome mistrust.”

Initially, UM would assist BIU in the development of a four-year, post-graduate medical school curriculum, not presently used in Israel. But over time, the collaboration would include the development of centers of excellence, de Marchena said.

“We believe that a medical school in the Galilee will also help develop the local economy, increase jobs, and position the area as a center for the further development of biotechnology, which Israel already is known for,” de Marchena said.

O’Connell noted that the foundation for a growing collaboration is already in place in the Galilee. Next spring, UGalilee, UM’s study-abroad program at ORT Braude College in the central Galilee city of Karmiel, will expand to include pre-medical courses that will fulfill requirements of pre-medical, pre-dental, and health science programs in the U.S. The successful and novel program was established by Haim Shaked, professor of international studies and founding director of the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies, who accompanied the UM delegation to Israel.

In addition to allowing U.S. pre-medical students to gain credits while studying abroad, O’Connell said, the premed program will provide an ideal training ground for biomedical faculty at ORT Braude while expanding premedical course offerings to Israeli students. This could serve as a pipeline of applicants to Bar-Ilan’s new four-year medical school, critical to alleviating Israel’s looming physician shortage.

“It has a lot of potential value to both Israeli and U.S. premed students,” O’Connell said.

Indeed, Rosenblatt, who attended high school in Israel as an exchange student, said the UM-BIU liaison presents a “unique opportunity.”

“Bar-Ilan is a scientific powerhouse, so there is great potential for collaboration in areas that Bar-Ilan is internationally known,” Rosenblatt said. “We in turn have a lot of clinical, scientific, and educational experience specific to the medical school, which we can share as they design a medical school from scratch. Our Israeli colleagues are eager to benefit from our own experience in working in a multicultural and varied socioeconomic environment as they develop plans for the new Galilee medical school.”

Lewis, who trained in Israel and served as the president of the U.S. branch of the Israel Medical Association, echoed that sentiment. “We can make a huge contribution in the development of both their didactic and research programs,” Lewis said. “And they can work with us in their areas of strength, especially in the basic sciences. For example, their nanotechnology is possibly better developed than ours so they could help us with that whereas in other areas, cancer for example, we can help them.”

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