For Americans and Canadians studying medicine at the Technion American Medical School, not only do they get a top quality medical education in the peaceful city of Haifa, they also get the chance to live in the most culturally, politically and geographically diverse city in Israel. And despite recent tensions in the south of Israel, this year’s cohort are excited by the opportunities that the Technion has to offer.

Entering the vast 14 story building which houses the Technion Medical faculty, cultural diversity is immediately apparent. Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian and a smattering of French echo through the hallways and the short elevator ride up to the American Medical School offers a small glimpse of the melting pot that is the Technion and the wider Haifa community.

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For Dr. David Steffin (Class of 2012), Haifa was his first exposure to Israel, having never visited the country prior to his medical training. “Haifa is full of diversity. In the one city, live Jews, Muslims, Christians and Baha’is and we treat them in the one hospital,” enthused Dr. Steffin. “Learning tolerance, acceptance and multiple languages has all been part of my education here at the Technion American Medical School”. While all classes are conducted in English, Dr. Steffin managed to learn both Hebrew and Arabic to aid him in his clinical placements. TeAMS

Medical students at TeAMS are able to travel to the USA for some of their clinical placements but cultural diversity and world-renowned medicine can be found right on their doorstep. Located adjacent to the medical school, in the Haifa Bay area, Rambam Hospital is the largest hospital in Northern Israel. Rambam’s patient population mirrors that of residential Haifa and the North with approximately 50% native-born Jewish Israelis, 35% native-born Arab Israelis (Christians, Muslims and Druze) and 15% new immigrants to Israel from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Rambam Hospital also houses the Middle East Outreach program, which treats patients from Israel’s neighboring countries and allows the TeAMS medical students to be exposed to a range of diseases, some of which are unique to these different ethnicities. 

Adam Greenblatt, who entered the Technion American Medical School this year, was attracted to the program as it offered him the opportunity to experience and learn from the Israeli approach to healthcare which he hopes he will be able to take back to the USA when he graduates in four years. In addition to the cultural diversity he looks forward to experiencing during his medical training, getting used to the day-to-day Israeli culture has its ups and downs. “I love the food and the weather.  It’s December and today I wore shorts!  That never happened at Brandeis (his Alma Mater).  On the other hand…watching an entire country shut down every weekend (for the Sabbath) was a bit of a culture shock,” explained Greenblatt. 

While such a culturally diverse country has insurmountable benefits for medical students, the recent tension in the region provided an unexpected introduction to living in Israel for Greenblatt and his cohort of incoming students. Southern Israel came under increased rocket fire from within Gaza but with the daily grind of medical school already underway, for most Haifa seemed a world away from life under fire. “We were very detached from what was going on down south but the experience (of going through a national emergency) felt very real,” explained Rostic Gorbatov, Greenblatt’s classmate. “It is such a rewarding experience to go through something like this. One understands and appreciates life so much more and the collective Israeli love of life shines through at times like this.” 

John Ward, a third year student from Michigan, agrees that most students were unfazed by the situation but for him, it was the Iron Dome rocket interception system, largely developed by Technion graduates, that characterized the period for him. “Studying at the Technion means that I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by amazing scientists from all disciplines,” he said. “Being in the same school as the people who created the hugely successful Iron Dome which saves lives daily is a privilege.” Ward says that he is able to visit other Technion departments and experience the Israeli culture of openness as top scientists’ and doctors’ doors are always open. Both Greenblatt and Gorbatov attest to this openness as facilitating the range of opportunities that the Technion offers, with Greenblatt, only four weeks into the program, already having shadowed an open-heart surgery; “The human heart looks nothing like that drawing I’ve been making for the last 15 years” he says. TeAMS

Throughout the period of unarrest, Israelis rallied together to support the south and TeAMS students were no different. Gorbatov has long had a connection to the south of Israel since a member of the Boston Russian Jewish community established links to the border city of Sderot in 2007. “The program started by bringing 20 kids from rocket-stricken Sderot to America for some well needed respite from the fire,” recalled Gorbatov. “It has since expanded to provide camps in Israel and America for children from Sderot and also instigated afterschool clubs to relieve the children’s plight.” When the situation worsened last month, Gorbatov arranged, with other members of the organization, to bring children from Sderot up to Haifa for a few days of ‘summer-camp fun’. “All my fellow TeAMS students offered their assistance and it is obvious to see the lasting effects on the children we help”.

Whether through volunteering efforts or simply through the unique opportunities that are open to medical students in Haifa, the Americans and Canadians studying at the Technion American Medical School are taking full advantage of the experiences that they are gaining in Israel as they train to be the Technion’s doctors of the future. 

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