Newswise — EL PASO, Texas — What started as a conversation and a handshake in the hallway has become a global partnership impacting faculty, students and even patients in El Paso and across the globe.

In 2019, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso leaders Irene Sarosiek, M.D., AGAF, FACG, CCRP, director of GI Motility Neurostimulation Research, and Vice President for Outreach and Community Engagement Jose Manuel de la Rosa, M.D., M.Sc., started an impromptu discussion about global collaboration and ended the conversation with a handshake and an agreement to partner with the Polish Medical University of Bialystok (UMB), Dr. Sarosiek's alma mater.

"I knew we were doing an excellent job with international collaboration at TTUHSC El Paso, and I wanted to see that collaboration extend to Poland," Dr. Sarosiek said. "This global exposure of our university is crucial. It’s a fantastic opportunity for our students and faculty, and we can share our resources and cutting-edge research with others."

Partnering with the Polish university is just one example of TTUHSC El Paso's global outreach. In 2017, the university partnered with the University of Medicine and Pharmacy at Ho Chi Minh and Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine to advance medical training and education in Vietnam. This year, Sanja Kupesic, M.D., Ph.D., associate academic dean for Faculty Development, began developing the Collaborative International Faculty Development Program with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Rijeka in Croatia.

Polish Medical University of Bialystok

In February 2022, TTUHSC El Paso hosted Malgorzata Sawicka-Zukowska, M.D., Ph.D., and Anna Kretowska-Grunwald, M.D., two pediatric oncology faculty members from the Medical University in Bialystok.

While visiting, the doctors shared research and development from Poland and presented, "A Challenging Case of Pediatric Hepatoblastoma: Is a Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR)-T Cell Immunotherapy the Last Option?" They also sought research and support for Dominic, a nine-year-old boy with hepatoblastoma, a rare tumor that originates in liver cells.

"This child was extremely sick and underwent many treatments to stay alive. They had hoped he would receive (CAR)-T Cell Immunotherapy, but found he was not a viable candidate,” Dr. Sarosiek said. “Because our oncologists at TTUHSC El Paso were able to review his case and share their research, our visiting doctors went home with a treatment plan.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit just months after the partnership was solidified between the two universities, the exchange of faculty and students and the collaboration in teaching, scholarly activity and educational programs were put on hold. However, Dr. Sarosiek said the future of the program will include faculty and student exchanges, participation in research presentations through both virtual and in-person meetings, as well as group efforts on international research papers.

Faculty of Medicine at the University of Rijeka In 2021, Dr. Kupesic, also a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at TTUHSC El Paso, met with Faculty of Medicine Dean Goran Hauser, M.D., and institutional leadership at the University of Rijeka in Croatia to discuss TTUHSC El Paso's experience and excellence in faculty development. From that meeting came the Collaborative International Faculty Development Program.

Since the beginning of July, when she was awarded a one-year sabbatical for initiating and developing the program, Dr. Kupesic has worked closely with Nina Pereza, M.D., and the Department of Faculty Development at the University of Rijeka on the creation of an institution-specific comprehensive faculty development program, which will kick off in November. The program's overarching goal is to improve the faculty's practical teaching skills in clinical simulation, bedside, ambulatory and other settings.

"At a time of globalization of education in health care, the development of international partnerships and student mobility has become very important," Dr. Kupesic said. "The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need for efficient international collaboration and communication in biomedical research, education and patient care. Such global health emergencies require different skill sets of health care professionals, researchers and educators. Today, all these elements are essential components of medical education curricula in all parts of the world."

Exposure to curriculum, medical education and health care practices in Croatia will help TTUHSC El Paso faculty better understand the social, cultural and economic components of health and health care, which will help students develop intercultural skills and resiliency for educating and practicing medicine in today's global world. Alternatively, as TTUHSC El Paso faculty share research and teaching methods, they enhance the quality and outcomes of medical education across the globe.

"Collaborative research with Rijeka's Medical Centers of Excellence builds the capacity to mentor our faculty and students working on these projects," Dr. Kupesic said. "Furthermore, participation in joint international research and training programs provides TTUHSC El Paso faculty and students with the foundation necessary for future work as international clinicians, educators and researchers."


About Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso TTUHSC El Paso is the only health sciences center on the U.S.-Mexico border and serves 108 counties in West Texas that have been historically underserved. It is designated as a Title V Hispanic-Serving Institution, preparing the next generation of health care heroes, 48% of whom identify as Hispanic and are often first-generation college students.

Photo From left: Dr. Malgorzata Sawicka-Zukowska, Dr. Irene Sarosiek and Dr. Anna Kretowska-Grunwald.


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