MORGANTOWN - West Virginia University School of Medicine student Connor Louden of Vienna will be taking a four-week surgery rotation at Oman Medical College.
When medical students go through their surgery rotations, they expect to participate in rounds and suture patients' wounds. But Louden and fellow fourth-year West Virginia University School of Medicine student Justin Arner will soon be doing just that while adjusting to a new weekend schedule and modified table manners.
Oman Medical College is in an Arab state on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It has an 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 said in a press release from WVU. "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. Louden and Arner will depart for Oman today and they are excited for the opportunity to study and train internationally.
Louden, a graduate of Parkersburg High School and Princeton University, 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 said.
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.
OMC uses a westernized model when it comes to medical education, complete with WiFi and cell phones, but both students said they are eager to observe similarities and differences in the hospital.
Louden said 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 in the press release. "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."
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 said 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.
Louden will be Tweeting about his experiences in Oman. Follow him as WVUinOman on Twitter.