Friday, November 10, 2006

A unique medical academy

By Tessa C. Mauricio , Life & Times Editor

Who else can revive a weakened body but a doctor of medicine? This is why The Manila Times School of Journalism placed an emergency call to Dr. Bajet A. Nour of Philadelphia, USA: To help boost the somewhat weakened perception of the Filipino health-care worker on the global front, following the widely publicized nursing exam scandal in June.

Nour and his team of medical doctors and educators were in Manila this week to lay the groundwork for the establishment of a local campus for the Global Medical Academy (GMA).

GMA, known in the United States and some 70 other countries as the “university without walls,” is ready to offer courses to Filipinos that lead to medical qualifications, which are suitable for licensing in most regions of the world, including the USA, Europe and Australia.

During a visit to The Manila Times offices on Tuesday, Nour explained that GMA’s schools of Medicine, Nursing, Health Science and Graduate Study degree programs all follow a curriculum that is based on the United States medical curriculum. “That, in itself, means the students are getting top quality curriculum, which makes them eligible to go to the United States and get a license there should they acquire US citizenship,” he said.

“[This is possible] because the key area is that the program has to be World Ethics-accredited, which places GMA in the World Health Organization book of medical schools. Again, that’s how the students are allowed to sit on the United States medical licensing—or wherever they come from, for that matter—whether Dubai or Australia.”

Globally competitive students

Moreover, GMA complements the US-standard theoretical instruction with a pioneering IT-based feature and an internship program that together make its students globally competitive very early on in the training stage.

“The didactic portion of the program is offered online,” Nour said. “We have a very high-quality content of medical curriculum that is supported through long-distance education that will allow students here to communicate with doctors anywhere in the world, thereby opening the doors to global medicine.”

As for the practical component, the last two years of the program give students the opportunity to complete clinical rotations in one of the university’s privately owned hospitals or clinics in parts of the world, including those in the United States, Australia, France and Great Britain.

In effect, the complete program should be able to minimize any competence issues for future Filipino health-care graduates of the school (if the issues continue to exist four or five years from now) or, on a more positive note, further enhance the value of the Filipino health-care worker in the international medical community.

Mission-based medicine

Established in 1994, Global Medical Academy is first and foremost involved in what it calls “mission-based medicine,” born of Dr. Bajet Nour’s impassioned sense of social responsibility. A native of Egypt, he lived in the face of poverty in his formative years and experienced firsthand the sad state of health-care services in a Third-World country. “By God’s grace,” he said, he was given the opportunity to study medicine in the United States, and eventually practice as a general and trauma surgeon, but without forgetting his roots.

Even as a medical student, Nour would volunteer to join medical and emergency missions in developing countries (mostly in Africa), a commitment that intensified in this compassionate young man beyond graduation.

Realizing his calling

During one such mission Nour realized his calling to use his profession in helping as many people as he can in as many parts of the poorer world.

Sometime in the early 1990s, he found a very sick young girl, barely in her teens, while on the road in an African country. Nour took her off the street and brought her back from a fever that made her unconscious.

“She was very frail when I found her, and even when she finally opened her eyes, I knew she was still in very bad shape.” Hardly able to speak from her condition, the girl struggled to inform her caregiver that she had no money to pay him for treating her.

“I told her she didn’t need to pay me. The next thing she did was to pull out a little black pouch from the pocket of her tattered clothes and weakly flung it on the table.”

Trying to hold back tears as he continued his story, Nour recounted how dust, a rusty pin, a small picture of Jesus and a gold ring fell from the pouch. “She said this is all I’ve got. She gave this ring to me and made me promise never to take it off,” he quietly added, showing his right hand.

Today, the ring serves as a constant reminder of Nour’s responsibility to help the poor and the sick. Tragically, the young girl died from complications, but her death has helped save countless other lives in the last decade, through some 70 medical clinics, which Nour and his group have set up in the poorest and most remote communities in the Third World.

Mission Philippines

According to Nour, the educational component of his work is fairly new, and was inspired by the stark reality that the developing nations are in desperate need of health-care workers.

“The lines are endless at medical missions, and there’s never enough time to get around to everyone in the limited number of days we have with them. At some point, I thought that if we could only train some of the members of the community to become doctors and nurses, then the people would have health care available to them all year round. They wouldn’t need to wait for the wealthier countries to help them.”

Using the Global Medical Academy as a springboard, Nour worked out a system that would generate funds for the project: “GMA is geared toward training 70 percent of students from First-World countries, which will make up for the tuition to support the 20 to 30 percent that we now want to enroll in the Philippines and in other developing nations.” To make sure he put his message across accurately, he declared: “We’re not asking for tuition; the Philippines gets a free program.”

Nour added that it is in this capacity that The Manila Times School of Journalism invited GMA to the country. “For the purpose of improving the economy, quality of education and standards of living through health care. Had it not been for this invitation, we probably would have gone somewhere else.”

Before coming to the Philippines, GMA instituted a large-scale operation in Bangladesh, which will serve as the model for the college it will establish at the Center for Excellence in Education at the Subic Bay Freeport. Once completed, the center, which sits on a three-hectare property, will offer additional internationally accredited degree programs in the arts and sciences, maritime, information technology and engineering, through two other colleges—The Manila Times School of Journalism and the US-based Seattle Maritime Academy.

“We aim to help”

“Because our main purpose is to help, the benefits of the whole system are multifaceted. In addition to the scholarship, we will also be able to promote local tourism and economy by bringing 70 percent of our First-World students on clinical rotation in hospitals and poor and remote communities here.” That single act will naturally result in money coming in from the First-World students, while instigating an improvement in health-care services.

“Moreover, we will use doctors and nurses here for the school, to help stimulate the economy. We also want to join courses with other medical schools and hospitals because our purpose is certainly not to compete with anyone but to become a team. This is beneficial to the rest of the academy because you have very high quality and competent doctors and nurses in the Philippines.”

A global commitment

Aware that GMA and its affiliate companies (Med Soft, Deda and Brain Monster, which operate the online component and market the project) arrived in the country at the tail end of the long-drawn-out nursing exam scandal, Nour disclosed, “Personally, the whole situation encouraged me to come here all the more because we have a program that promotes ethics and faith, and that’s part of our mission. We have a global commitment and our No. 1 priority is to make everything topnotch in terms of medical ethics. Our goal is not only to teach people medicine but to teach them how to be better persons, how to be better caregivers, and how to integrate their faith, learning and belief in God in the medical mission.”

Dr. Nour’s Mission Philippines team is composed of Michael Sanders, president; his wife, Kimberly Nour, chief financial officer; Dr. Mark Volpe, M.D., executive vice-president; and Josephine Merka, project relations officer.

Nour is concurrently chief executive officer and director of international development.

Ideally, Global Medical Academy would want future Filipino graduates to stay in the country and to take part in a more permanent and self-sufficient health-care service in far-flung communities and depressed areas. However, it is also aware that many Filipinos seek to find employment abroad.

To this, Dr. Nour responded: “Indigenous training is really what our work is all about, so we primarily look out for students who are willing to stay in their country once they get their degree.”

The institution is not just about textbooks, lectures and hands-on training. It is about a noble mission that needs, not just a mind for medicine, but a heart for compassion

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