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International cooperation

Thomas_Otto.JPGTo become acquainted with the practice in leading European hospitals during one's medical studies, an internship abroad is important. It is one of the development priorities of Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU). For this reason, RSU has built a close cooperative relationship with several hospitals in Germany, among which one excellent partner is the teaching clinic Lukaskrankenhaus in the German town of Neuss. Several RSU student groups have completed their internships there already.

The head of the Urology Department at Lukaskrankenhaus and leader of the coordination group for cooperation with RSU in the fields of medical education, research and development, Professor Thomas Otto, kindly agreed to assess the cooperation between the Neuss Clinic and RSU so far, as well as to discuss future plans.

What, in your opinion, are the most important benefits from the cooperation between the academic hospital Lukaskrankenhaus and RSU?

The greatest benefit from our cooperation is an internationally competitive medical education that the students get during internships in our clinic. It will be important for their future careers, for competing in the labour market and for striving for medical excellence. The students have an opportunity to interview patients and to analyse medical records during an intensive study period, thus assessing patient conditions both individually and in small groups. The interns gain theoretical knowledge and practical experience by using up-to-date technologies, which are becoming increasingly important in medicine. An individual teaching plan is developed and specific goals are set, as well as assistance in career planning is provided. The young students experience the entire cycle of treating a patient in the clinic from admission to discharge, as well as familiarising themselves with the German healthcare system, including the mechanisms of quality control. During their internships, the students also participate in different conferences and regional congresses, where they gain new experience and make professional acquaintances.

The students have pleasant living conditions during their internship in our clinic. They have access to conference and study rooms. Neuss is located close to Düsseldorf and Cologne. We have high-quality public transportation, therefore, the young people have an opportunity not only to improve their medical competencies, but also to visit other cities in Germany – to see their architecture, culture, traditions and daily rhythm.

What is your assessment of the knowledge the students have acquired before the clinical internship?

I think that the students have excellent knowledge. I would like to point out their advanced knowledge in anatomy and physiology in particular, which are very important for a physician-in-training. The students are professional, self-motivated and ready for work. Understandably, the studies and internship abroad have specific individual requirements.

Previously, mostly German RSU students undertook internships in our clinic, however, as our cooperation progresses, Latvian RSU students with a knowledge of English or German will also study here.

How has the clinical internship improved the students' knowledge and skills?

Figuratively speaking, the most important benefit is to translate theoretical knowledge into the language of practical application; to use the knowledge gained at RSU in clinical practice abroad, for example, when communicating with a patient. Each country and also every clinic has their own treatment traditions. Learning them benefits the physicians-in-training. The students learn how to apply their knowledge of anatomy and physiology in an operating room. Knowledge of biochemistry and pharmacology is no less important – it allows one to prescribe the right medicine for the patients. The interns work in a laboratory and learn to use laboratory data and draw conclusions. A multidisciplinary approach is important in the treatment process. Perfect knowledge in one field only is not sufficient for successful treatment. A chance to use extensive knowledge in different areas is what the internship provides.

There was an online exam to test the students’ knowledge both in the Lukaskrankenhaus Clinic and at RSU. Is that the future?

The future is already here. For such international assessment of the students' knowledge to be successful, standardised and comparable requirements are important, as well as a standardised scoring system. International online exams are being increasingly utilised. Digital assessment, is possibly easier because the examiner is not present and doesn't meet the student face-to-face. However, the oral exams are still relevant, because then it is possible to assess the personality and character of a student and to positively influence the student.

What types of study programmes are available to the students as young professionals in the clinic?

Regular courses and practical classes, for example, first aid, patient interviewing, ultrasonography, endoscopy, laparoscopy, laboratory work, research. There are also courses for improving research-related and teaching skills, for example, planning and preparing a doctoral thesis, publishing and presentation skills, clinical management and medical ethics.

How important, in your opinion, is simulation as a part of medical studies?

Simulation provides an excellent opportunity to prepare for practical work, critical situations and first aid. This approach was initially adapted from aviation, industrial and military medicine. Now, it is an integral part of medical education.

How would you describe the importance of international cooperation in general?

In medicine we think globally. Therefore, the students with international experience have an advantage – more advanced knowledge and skills. It makes them more valuable as professionals. They are more competitive. These students become highly motivated individuals with international clinical and scientific contacts.

About Professor Thomas Otto

Thomas Otto obtained his degree in medicine from the Department of Urology at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Later, he worked in the Department of General and Vascular Surgery at the Mülheim an der Ruhr Evangelical Hospital. From 1987 to 2004, the Professor worked in the Department of Urology at the University of Duisburg-Essen, where he conducted research in biology and molecular oncology. In 1996, he became an Associate Professor and, in 2001, a professor of urology. In 2004, Thomas Otto became the Director of the Department of Urology of the academic clinic Lukaskrankenhaus. He has been Director of the Institute of Tissue Engineering in the same clinic since 2005. This year, he participated in the RSU State Exam Commission. Involvement of outstanding foreign professors in the assessment of students’ knowledge and skills is important for improving the quality of the assessment of RSU students' knowledge.

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