MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When medical students go through their surgery rotations, they expect to participate in rounds and suture patients’ wounds. But, two West Virginia University School of Medicine students will soon be doing just that while adjusting to a new weekend schedule and modified table manners.Connor Louden

Fourth-year medical students Justin Arner and Connor Louden will be completing a four-week surgery rotation at Oman Medical College (OMC), thanks to the school’s academic partnership with WVU. This is the first time WVU students will be participating in OMC’s educational programs since the school opened in 2001.

“There will be a similar style of rounding in the morning and seeing patients, and then lectures in the afternoon,” Arner explained. “It should be similar but in a very different place.”

Located in the city of Sohar, the campus and its affiliate, Sohar Regional Hospital, are situated in the Sultanate of Oman’s seaside Batinah Region, bordered by the Gulf of Oman. Arner and Louden will depart for Oman Friday, Feb. 1, and they are excited for the opportunity to study and train internationally.
Justin Arner
They know, however, that being immersed in another culture will have its challenges. WVU School of Medicine Professor Christopher J. Martin, M.D., M.Sc., who oversees international education opportunities, has prepped Arner and Louden for many of the nuances they will encounter in Oman. For example, Arner said the weekend takes place on Thursday and Friday, and it is unacceptable to wear shorts, except when playing sports.

Louden noted he plans to sit on his left hand during all meals. “It is traditional to eat and pass money only with your right hand,” he said. “It is insulting to use the left hand because it is considered unclean.”

While the OMC faculty and students will speak English, most patients will speak Arabic. Louden noted that the communication barrier will be challenging. “I’m looking forward to learning how patients present and what they value in medical care,” he added.

OMC uses a westernized model when it comes to medical education, complete with WiFi and cell phones, but both students said they are anxious to observe similarities and differences in the hospital.

“It will be interesting to see if the operating rooms are different and see what their protocols are,” Arner said. “It’s hard to tell if it will be more hands on or less hands on.”

Louden added he is ready to jump in and help in any way possible while in the operating room, whether it’s cutting, suturing or anything in between.

“I’m hoping they’ll give us hands-on experience,” Louden said. “I’ll take as much as they’ll allow.”

The surgery rotation is particularly important for Arner and Louden because both of their planned specialties will involve surgery. Arner hopes to become an orthopaedic surgeon, while Louden plans to specialize in interventional radiology, an area that often involves minimally invasive procedures and management of surgery patients. In fact, depending on how the rotation goes in Oman, Louden said he may pursue international work during his residency years or at another time in his medical career.

The time in Oman will provide much more than surgical experience, though. From haggling and buying in the local marketplace to navigating the busy streets filled with fast and wildly moving cars, Arner and Louden are looking forward to being completely immersed in another culture.

“It should be nice to meet people in Oman and learn about their food,” Arner said. “It’s a port city, and there’s a lot of diversity. We’ve heard they are very accepting of other cultures. Being a port city has made the people very friendly and open.”

Arner is a native of Clarion, Pa., and Louden hails from Parkersburg, W. Va. Neither has traveled to the Middle East. They hope to check out the camel racing track next to the hospital, explore Oman’s capital city, Muscat, and perhaps even travel to Dubai, which is about a four-hour drive from Sohar.

Louden added that he is looking forward to seeing how devout the people in Oman are. “Religion is important in everything they do,” he said. “If someone doesn’t believe in God, they just don’t understand that. They have a dedication and zeal for what they believe in, and I think I might be inspired by it.”

Arner and Louden will be in Oman for the entire month of February – an important time for fourth-year medical students. All across the United States, they are busy finalizing their rank order lists, due Feb. 20, indicating their preferences for where they will complete their residencies. The two WVU students return to the U.S. on Feb. 28, back in plenty of time for Match Day on March 15.

“It should be fun to be the first WVU students to study there,” Arner said. “OMC hasn’t been around too long, so it’s important for them, too. It signifies that they’ve come a long way. It’s a quality school that American students can go to and learn something different. It’s exciting for both sides since WVU helped them start the school, and they’ve obviously done a lot of the ground work since then.”

Arner and Louden will be Tweeting about their experiences in Oman. Follow them as WVUinOman on Twitter.
For more information: Amy Johns, Director of Public Affairs, 304-293-7087
ah: 01-30-13