The Link Program: A Bridge Between Dalhousie and the International Medical University

Nirmal Radhawa

Nirmal Radhawa - Class of 2013

Getting adjusted to a new country can be difficult for anyone, but it can be especially challenging if you are also enrolled in medical school. This is a challenge Nirmal Randhawa knows firsthand.

Nirmal is an International Medical University (IMU) student who will be entering the Med 3 year of Dalhousie University’s medicine program this September.  Her educational experiences are part of a partnership started in 1996 between the IMU in Malaysia and Dalhousie. This program involves IMU students completing 2.5 years of training in Malaysia before coming to Dalhousie to complete the final two years of undergraduate medical studies.

The purpose of this partnership is to increase student and educational capacity for IMU, and to increase Dalhousie’s international presence and multicultural experiences. As of May 2011, 66 IMU MDs have graduated from Dalhousie through the program.

However, it is not easy for IMUs to adjust to new students, new facilities, new professors and a new city. For this reason the IMU students take part in the Link Program, a bridging program overseen by the Global Health Office that helps IMU students adapt to new environments and allows them to participate in clinical training sessions. The program, which runs from May to August, is comprised of training and sessions ranging from communication skills to case practice sessions to ward experience.

Currently, Nirmal is participating in the Link Program, and the GHO spoke to her to see how things are going:

GHO - How has the Link Program been going?

Nirmal – The Link Program has been going great! I have learned so much and had the pleasure of meeting and working with so many great doctors, tutors and fellow medical students. I really like how everyone here would genuinely really like to see you succeed and so teaching here is based on encouragement and positive reinforcement. I am so much more confident in my skills as a future health professional and I keep learning more every day.

GHO – What sessions do you find most interesting?

Nirmal - I found the summer clinical experience postings to be the most interesting. All of us are anxious about what to expect when clerkship begins and so the postings were a great introduction to the Canadian health system, the hospital dynamics and what is expected of us as clerks.

GHO – Why do you think the Link Program is important for IMU students entering Med 3?

Nirmal – The Link Program has been such a blessing for us IMU students! The program touched on lots of topics that most medical students find tricky and taught us basic medical procedures that we hadn’t learned in IMU yet. It also brought us up to speed on topics that we didn’t learn in IMU so that we were on the same track as current Dalhousie medical students. Plus, prior to coming to Dalhousie, some of us had a 5 month break and some had an 11 month break, so the Link Program also served as a great, much needed refresher course. I’m so thankful that we’re given the opportunity to reboot before being thrown into clerkship!

GHO – In what ways has the Global Health Office been a good resource for you?

Nirmal - The Global Health Office staff really makes you feel cared for. So much effort has been put into making sure that we are comfortable and gaining as much as we can from this program. Being so far away from home, it’s great knowing that we have so many people here in the GHO looking out for us.

GHO – What are you looking forward to most come this September?

Nirmal – I like how medical students here are not treated as just medical students, but rather an equally important member of the medical team. I’m most excited about being in the hospitals and learning and contributing as part of a medical team, as well as getting a hands-on approach to the theoretical knowledge that we’ve learned. I’m also keen on meeting the rest of my classmates!

International Medical Graduates Clerkship Program: The Road to Practice

Born in Germany to Syrian parents, Suha Masalmeh has been living in Halifax for 16 years. Despite having a degree in medicine from outside the country, she is unable to practice in Canada because the road to licensure is so timely and expensive. For International Medical Graduates (IMG), it is extremely difficult to obtain a residency seat here.

However, now that Suha has been accepted into the IMG Clerkship Program at Dalhousie University, she is well on her way to obtaining a residency seat through the Canadian Residency Matching Service (CaRMS). IMG clerkship is a program that helps keep valuable immigrant physicians in Nova Scotia, and Suha says she is looking forward to taking part in it.

“I am really excited about the program and the various clinical experiences I will encounter throughout the years,” she says. “I look forward for the clerkship linked with great hands-on experience.”

The program began in 2008 and accepts two applicants each year. They enter Med 3, graduate after Med 4, complete their residency and then practice in Nova Scotia for at least two years under a Return of Service contract. The program is overseen by Dalhousie’s Global Health Office, and Suha says the office has been a great resource for her.

“The staff of the GHO was extremely valuable in helping me go through program details, schedule and any information needed,” she says. “They helped simplify some complex issues along the road. Great communication all the time.”

Suha has also played a hand in developing the IMG clerkship program when she was the president of the Association of International Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. During this time she advocated for IMGs and engaged in dialogues with various groups about the IMG clerkship program. But now it is Suha’s time to go through the program and once again practice her profession.

“The program would allow me to wipe the acronym IMG,” she says. “I really missed being a physician.”

Currently, Suha is taking part in the Link Program, which is a bridging program that helps international students get up to speed with training sessions while getting them familiar with the faculty and facilities. Her clerkship begins in September.