Partners in health

Posted on Thursday, August 25, 2016

Chinese graduates wearing gowns jump up and throw their mortar board hats into the air.


Graduates of the Ottawa-Shanghai Joint School of Medicine are on track to receive North American MD degrees in 2019. Photo courtesy of SJTUSM.


By Mike Foster

This month, there will be extra cause for celebration and some special guests from the University of Ottawa when the Renji Hospital in Shanghai, China, celebrates 170 years of providing medical care.

The hospital, first built in 1844, will become part of the world’s first Sino-Canadian joint medical school and the first in China to adopt a North American medical education (MD) program, thanks to a flagship partnership between the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine (SJTUSM).

Known as the Ottawa-Shanghai Joint School of Medicine (OSJSM), the first cohort of 30 Chinese students will begin a transition year this fall before they apply for a four-year undergraduate medical education program that will be based on uOttawa’s curriculum as well as the Chinese bachelor’s degree in clinical medicine. The first students will enter straight out of high school and will study basic science courses in biology and organic chemistry. Then, in 2015, they will receive pre-clerkship and clerkship training in English from teachers from uOttawa and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Dr. Jacques Bradwejn, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, says that the OSJSM will open up many opportunities for knowledge-sharing and exchanges between Canada and China, in terms of medical education, health research and faculty development.

In an interview before he left for Shanghai, Dr. Bradwejn said that he was extremely pleased, especially given that the University of Ottawa’s application for further financial support from the Shanghai municipal government beat out competing bids from several Ivy League schools in the U.S. and other research-intensive universities in Canada.

The Faculty of Medicine, in line with the University’s focus on internationalization, had been looking for a strong preferred partner with which to conduct further research, he said. Shanghai Jiao Tong University is ranked 104th in the QS World University rankings; in comparison, the University of Ottawa ranks 218th.

“The SJTUSM wants to move to a four-year curriculum with the teaching modalities that we use in Ottawa, which are quite modern in terms of e-learning and e-curriculum. They wanted to open an English stream and they wanted to do it with North American accreditation quality and with us, specifically,” said Dr. Bradwejn.

Not only will SJTUSM be leading in China by adopting a North American MD program, it will also be leading by aiming to achieve the North American accreditation level as well as raising the Chinese one, he added.  

“The accreditation system in North America is considered to be one of the best in the world. Even in some European countries you do not have that level of scrutiny. The Chinese, wanting to excel and outrank everybody in everything, want to set the standard and use the standard of what is considered the best accreditation system for a new curriculum,” said Dr. Bradwejn.

Jean Roy, University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine vice-dean (francophone affairs); Yong Zhang, director of SJTUSM Office of International Affairs; Jacques Bradwejn; and Yuwei Wang stand in a garden outside the Shanghai Jiao Tong University in October 201

A partnership nurtured over time: From left, Jean Roy, University of Ottawa Vice-Dean, Francophone Affairs; Yong Zhang, Director, SJTUSM Office of International Affairs, Jacques Bradwejn and Yuwei Wang on a visit to Shanghai in October 2012.

The new venture, launched over two days on October 17 and 18 in Shanghai, builds on the Faculty’s previous research relationship with the SJTUSM. Since 2011, the Faculty has worked with the Shanghai school on research, medical education and, more recently, residency training in family medicine, pediatric research and education, and the humanities in medicine. Last year, the two universities signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA), witnessed by Governor General David Johnston and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. The partners set up a five-year, million-dollar joint fund for collaborative medical research and committed another million dollars to fund joint research projects focussing on innovation in medical education.

“Our raison d’être at the Faculty of Medicine is to serve by providing the best education program locally, but also globally. Together, we will be able to springboard within China, to extend what is done in Shanghai across south-east Asia, and together we will be able to have a truly global program. We are aiming, eventually, at dual degrees in medicine from both universities for Shanghai and Ottawa students. That hasn’t been done yet,” Dr. Bradwejn said.

The OSJSM will also act as go-between: undergraduates at uOttawa’s Faculty of Medicine will be able to travel to Shanghai and take courses in traditional Chinese medicine and other fields unique to China, while OSJSM pre-clerkship students will have the opportunity to study in French at the Faculty of Medicine and gain first-hand experience in the North American medical education system.

In effect, the OSJSM will be set up as a distant campus of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine that will follow its undergraduate medical education curriculum and administrative practices. It will operate under the Faculty of Medicine’s governance for all academic matters. Students will be initially selected for entry by the SJTUSM but then will be required to pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to be admitted to the OSJSM’s four-year medical undergraduate program, which will apply standards set by the North American Committee on Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools’ (CACMS) Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).

The roots of the relationship between the two universities go back to when Dr. Wang, who is originally from Shanghai, and Daniel Figeys, a uOttawa professor and Canada Research Chair in Proteomics and Systems Biology, decided to look to China to obtain funding for the China-Ontario Bio-Analytical Consortium. Dr. Wang helped Dr. Figeys secure a $150,000 grant for three years and the two began to collaborate with the Shanghai Diabetes Institute at the No.6 People’s Hospital, one of SJTUSM’s twelve affiliated hospitals.

Since then, Wang and other faculty members, including Daniel Figeys, who is also a member of the Ottawa Institute of Systems Biology, have been to Shanghai several times to build partnerships with joint research labs such as the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica.

Wang believes that the North American medical education curriculum offers more in terms of case-based learning and support for students. He says medical education in China tends to focus on lectures, and that standards vary depending on the medical school.

“What we have (in Canada) is more adapted to the students’ interest, their appreciation of medicine as a holistic concept. It is very innovative. Students will understand and grasp medical skills much faster and retain them for longer,” says Wang.

Wang says there is great potential for research into effective teaching methods, as there is very little research on this in China.

In August, Dr. Charles Su, an emergency physician in Winchester, Ontario and Director of Distributed Medical Education at the Faculty of Medicine, was one of four University professors to travel to Shanghai to teach summer school courses as a two-week test run. Dr. Su says he and Drs. Christopher Skinner, Karima Khamisa and Leonard Bloom gave talks about everything from the Canadian medical system to sleep disorders.

“We taught them how to do a head and neck examination, how to take a patient history for somebody with fever, a whole bunch of different learning sessions that they wouldn’t get there,” Dr. Su says. “They had a million questions.”

Dr. Su says he was struck by how intensely competitive it is for Chinese students to get into university.

A group of medical students at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine stands around a plastic model that shows human organs and muscles.

Medical students at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine learn about anatomy. Photo courtesy of SJTUSM.

“The students were amazing. At the end of their high school year, they have essentially what is an SAT exam, and depending on your mark, that dictates what you get to do. I asked one of the girls in the class, ‘How did you do on this test?’ She said she was from a small village in a province 2,000 kilometres away from Shanghai. When she graduated, 350,000 students from her province took the test – And she came eighth. There are nine million students who graduate from high school every year who write this university entrance exam. The competition is unbelievable -- eighth out of 350,000? Yep, we’ll take that.”

As a doctor, he noticed the lack of primary care in China; patients with headaches would line up to see specialist neurologists.

For Dean Bradwejn, primary care training is one of the next programs that could be added to the uOttawa medical education program at the OSJSM. Also, the sheer number of patients and operations that take place in Shanghai could eventually help Ottawa’s doctors-in-training acquire the surgical experience they need, and could also provide large sample populations for epidemiological or clinical research.

“We are already considering creating a residency program that is based on the family medicine training program here in Canada, which is a great need in China. They don’t have much primary care; everything is super-specialized,” said Bradwejn.

In the meantime, the possibility of twinning high-level Shanghai hospitals with The Ottawa Hospital and CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) is in progress.

The launch will mark Dean Bradwejn’s fifth trip to Shanghai, a city that is becoming something of a home away from home for him. More trips are sure to follow in the years ahead as the partnership grows.

“There are cultural differences but it feels very familiar. We share the same values. We share a common vision, so it is like being at home but with different décor. Shanghai is extremely modern, it is the future,” he said.

 “In Shanghai, you find everything. We were in the old French quarter one night and we decided to go eat alone instead of at a big official dinner. We went to the mall and what’s the first thing we see? Poutine!”


This story originally appeared in the uOttawa Tabaret in October 2014.

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