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Finding peace with medicine

Four-week program brings Middle Eastern students to Toronto
By Tristan Carter

March 9, 2012

Neighbourhoods: Bridle Path

Originally published in our Bayview Mills print edition(s).

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Can studying medicine in Toronto promote peace in the Middle East?

According to Alexandra Martiniuk and Shannon Wires, it’s a good start.

In 2003, Martiniuk, who does research with Sunnybrook Hospital, and Wires, who currently works in the department of pediatrics at the University of Manitoba, helped to create a medical elective that sees medical students from Canada, Israel, Palestine and Jordan come to Toronto to study for a month. This fall, they published an evaluation of the project in the journal “Medicine, Conflict, Survival.”

“I think it’s been very successful on multiple levels,” said Wires. “All of the participants said that this was a life-changing experience for them.”

The program, centred at Sick Kids, Mount Sinai and the University of Toronto, seeks to bridge the gap between cultures while giving them practice in areas like paediatric oncology, paediatric emergency medicine and genetic hearing loss.

“What you’ve got is a region that is in conflict and is there a way for us to help out,” said Rahim Valani, who got Sunnybrook Hospital involved in the project in 2007. “There’s a lot of history behind this that’s not going to change overnight but if the younger generation can understand this process, they can go and make a difference.”

As part of the program, students share a floor in residence. They attend lectures and workshops during class time and participate in various social and teambuilding activities in the evenings and on weekends.

“Anything practical the students loved, but it also made them work together as teams,” Valani said. “They would practise putting casts on each other, so you’ve got an Israeli and a Jordanian and a Palestinian working on each other.

“It did build up those alliances and the networking that carried on further.”

A series of questions are posed to participating students at the beginning of the four-week program, said Valani. At the end, the same questions are posed to see the effect the program has had.

“It was shown that in just four weeks we’ve seen changes in attitudes and beliefs,” he said.

Now in its ninth year, the program seems to be going strong, although it relies heavily on the generosity of private donors to help pay for the flights and room and board for the students.

However, thanks to staff who largely help out on a volunteer basis, Wires said she thinks the program will continue to be a success.

“Any project, especially one started by students, that is still running nine years later, by definition, is a success as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “It’s kind of wonderful to see it continue to blossom from one year to the next.”

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