The chance to study abroad is an often-coveted experience. It expands points of view and allows for ideas to be shared in ways that otherwise might not have been possible.
Medical students such as Philine Behrens and Alice Willison sought this experience from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Behrens is halfway through her program at Charité University in Berlin, Germany. Willison will be graduating this summer from the University of Dundee in Scotland and pursuing a career in pediatric brain cancer with special interest in the genetics of cancer.
Their common interest in neurosurgery brought them from two different parts of Europe to study under internationally respected pediatric neurosurgeon George Jallo, M.D., and his specialized team.
The specialized care that draws patients from across the country for treatment also makes Johns Hopkins All Children’s a sought after destination for students. A chance to learn about uncommon conditions in a real world situation is the opportunity of a lifetime.
"The opportunity for us to have medical students from abroad is a win-win for all. Our visiting students get the opportunity to learn about international pediatric neurosurgery in a different country,” says Jallo, medical director of the Johns Hopkins All Children's Institute for Brain Protection Sciences (IBPS), chief of pediatric neurosurgery, professor of neurosurgery, pediatrics and oncology for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and interim vice dean for the Johns Hopkins All Children’s campus. “We also learn how similar conditions are managed in different parts of the world. It allows us to question our management to ensure that we are constantly striving to provide the best care for our children.”
With only a handful of spaces available for visiting students, a rigorous interview process ensures that each student is the right match for the program.
“It’s a highly selective process requiring each applicant to undergo a transcript review and a Skype interview,” explains Pattie Quigley, M.D., assistant program director of the pediatric residency program and director of undergraduate medical education at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. “Through these, we determine if the student is a good fit for the program and what the best area of study will be.”
As Behrens and Willison return home from their four-week rotation, they share thanks to their new mentors and some parting thoughts on their experience.
Why study abroad at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital?
Behrens: Johns Hopkins All Children’s has a reputation for not only great care, but also an outstanding atmosphere. Even when I arrived here, I immediately felt integrated into the neurosurgical team. Everyone is so kind, open-minded and welcoming.
Willison: I attend a very academic center and I’m involved in research. Knowing about Dr. Jallo’s work, I thought it would be really cool to see how he balances his research and clinical practice because that is what I want to do. He’s a role model for me.
What is the most impactful thing you have learned during your time here?
Behrens: Pediatric neurosurgery is all about passion and perfection, which you can only reach by successfully cooperating as a team. Unlike in Germany, there are many different roles apart from physicians and nurses, such as nurse practitioners, who play a crucial role in ensuring the patient’s wellbeing. Everyone is really trying his or her best to make the patients happy and healthy again.
Willison: It’s a level above just teamwork—everyone is friendly. I hope that when I’m a doctor I can make that real effort to get to know my team so we can all enjoy our work and know patients are being cared for by someone who loves what they do.
How will this experience benefit your future career?
Behrens: Studying here, I got the impression this is not only a job, but a real vocation. When I was working on a research project, I even had questions answered on a Sunday late in the evening when the supervising nurse practitioner was not officially on-call. This attitude is something I will definitely take back to Germany.
Willison: For me, it has shown that it is possible to do research and practice medicine at the same time as long as you have the right support system in place and patients can really benefit from this. I am very motivated to continue on this career path.
What advice would you give to a future student?
Behrens: Don’t miss the opportunity. Show your interest and curiosity. The physicians are very supportive and make sure students have the chance to learn about topics related to their interests, including all types of surgeries. I appreciate all the great support and explanations that were (very patiently) given to me.
Willison: Come here without an agenda and immerse yourself in the team. You’re here when the resident is here, seeing patients and taking part in everything going on. It’s been amazing.