IPEME program builds relationships between Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and Canadians
When 12 medical students departed to their home countries last week following their completion of a summer elective course in paediatric emergency medicine and global health, they not only left with invaluable experience that will one day help them in their careers, but perhaps more importantly with a greater understanding of peaceful interaction through unlikely cross-border friendships.
The International Paediatric Emergency Medicine Elective (IPEME) brings together Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Canadian medical students to Toronto, Ont. for four weeks each year to learn about paediatric emergency medicine and other topics such as psychology, social sciences and health sciences.
Presented by The Peter A. Silverman Centre for International Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto as well as the Canada International Scientific Exchange Program (CISEPO), the course is a full-recognized University of Toronto undergraduate medical elective, available for students entering their final two years of medical studies as well as those who have recently graduated.
It is funded by Wealhouse Capital Management and the Kavelman-Fonn Foundation. Since 2007 to date, 59 students have successfully completed IPEME.
This year’s program, the ninth since it was originally created, was the first in which a full roster of 12 students took part; including three from each geographic region.
From July 9 to August 3, the students participated in three daily sessions from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., involving case-based seminars, informative lessons and especially hands-on experiences, which included paediatric emergency medicine shifts at local hospitals.
2012 IPEME students in action. Photo: IPEME
And throughout the entire month, the participants built friendships while living with one another, fostering peaceful relationships and cross-border cooperation.
“It’s truly transformative. As Canadians we can organize an event like this and pry the umbrella,” said Dr. Harvey Skinner, dean of the faculty of health at York University and CISEPO’s chair of the board of directors. “When meeting with Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, we find out it’s humanizing and we’re more similar than different. Every time we do this and we see the impact that it has, it truly gets rid of your stereotypes. We can only move forward and resolve the conflicts through cooperation and negotiation.”
Dr. Dennis Scolnik, co-director of IPEME and a physician in emergency paediatric medicine at SickKids Hospital concurred.
“Our idea is to use health as a vehicle for peace, health being the neutral language that all humans speak. Moving on to paediatric health is even more common and more acknowledged by everyone,” Scolnik told Shalom Life.
“Sometimes the process is more important than the output. We throw the students together. They live together, they eat together and they develop research projects together.”
These projects were presented on August 1 at the 2012 IPEME closing reception, attended by both IPEME founder Dr. Arnold Noyek, as well as Hadas Wittenberg Silberstein, Deputy Consul General of Israel in Toronto.
Three groups, made up of one student from each of the four nationalities of the program’s participants, presented their final projects on topics that they had chosen.
“Our major role is to foster academic development, to foster the careers of the students who engage with us and to make them part of our alumni so they go forward to do work on the ground and continue to work together,” said Noyek, noting the “unique” nature of IPEME’s purpose on the world scene. “Scholarship is what we’re all about. We focus on the academics and building relationship [because] that’s what builds trust and confidence cross borders.”
IPEME participants bond during a trip to Niagara Falls, Ont. Photo: IPEME
One group looked at the symptoms, causes and prevalence of paediatric posttraumatic stress within each of the four regions, presenting potential solutions to ongoing barriers in their homelands, such as varying attitudes toward PTSD among emergency room staff in hospitals.
Another group researched acute abdomen barriers to rapid emergency paediatric healthcare within their regions, proposing a simple visual that hospital staff could provide in order to assist parents in caring for their children at home.
The final group discussed how exposure of pregnant women to second-hand smoke can lower a baby’s birth weight, thereby suggesting that creating a viral video and spreading it through social media could be largely effective in educating people about the dangers of second-hand smoke.
“In the past what we’ve told them to do is pick topics and projects that they are able to go and certainly complete on their return back to their home countries,” said IPEME co-director Dr. Rahim Valani, a paediatric emergency physician at McMaster Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor at the university. “When they disperse from here, what we hope is that they can go back to their home countries and because of the simplicity of the projects that they can actually go and carry it out.”
Dana Dror, an Israeli student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said that upon hearing of the program from an alumnus, she was very interested in both the medical and cooperation characteristics of the elective.
“Peace should be promoted through personal contacts because if you know people you can tell that we’re all human beings that want to live peacefully and just get by with each other,” she said. “I thought it could be interesting to discuss global health and address issues in other sections of the world. It was an interesting topic and I may deal with it in the future as a physician. I think I learned a lot about approach; how to talk to people and parents.”
Majd Qasum, a Palestinian student at Jordan’s Hashemite University, said the international aspect of the elective was one of the leading causes that initially drew him in.
“I’m interested in peace and sharing with other people from other cultures and countries. Because I’m going to work in Israel, I wanted to have friends from Israel too,” said Qasum, noting that he never noticed any conflict or tension between his fellow participants in the program.
“It worked very fine and everybody’s friends with each other, both Palestinians and Israelis. I don’t think that there was any problem here in the program.”
Scolnik noted that the staff has facilitated peaceful political dialogue, led by the students themselves, for five of the past six years that he has been involved with IPEME.
According to Valani, conflicting political beliefs that have come to the forefront of discussion in past years have never gotten out of hand.
“The amazing thing is these people come to a country that’s fairly neutral and very multicultural and they actually see our ideologies and change their attitudes,” he said. “In four weeks, we can provide them with an opportunity to communicate more freely and bridge those differences; to build and strengthen their collaboration rather than using barriers of geopolitical differences.”
What makes IPEME so effective is the opportunity for students who would ordinarily never have any interaction whatsoever, to meet face-to-face and build unlikely friendships, Noyek said.
“It’s all part of this cross-cultural opportunity to learn that similarities are much greater than differences,” he said. “They’re also the future leaders and the whole weapon is education. We provide an umbrella and a sense of ethics and values so that we can actually demonstrate how you can influence things for good as a middle power.”