JULY 25, 2016 – In 2007, Pablo Irusta, PhD, began the Translational Health Science Internship Program for Georgetown undergraduates – one that allows students to immerse themselves in laboratory and clinical research with a focus on respiratory illness.
From the end of May until early July, the 10th group of students made the journey, says Irusta, an associate professor of human science at the School of Nursing & Health Studies. Overall, he says, more than 130 students from Georgetown and other universities have taken part since the program’s founding.
“I am very pleased with the success of the program over the past decade,” he says. “It has been very gratifying to provide students with this global immersion experience, which aims to inspire future clinicians and scientists and emphasizes bench-to-bedside approaches to health care.”
‘Reaffirmed My Passion’
The intensive program, sponsored by the Department of Human Science and hosted by the INFANT Foundation in Buenos Aires, lasts six weeks.
Students have the opportunity to learn from researchers and physicians who have been educated in Argentina and the United States. The focus is on respiratory infections – particularly respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – in babies, children, and teenagers.
“The [internship] reaffirmed my passion to pursue medicine,” says participant Jake Schwartz (NHS’18), a human science major. “It gave me theoretical knowledge of respiratory disease and experiential knowledge of medicine in a region with a unique set of fascinating challenges. Those six weeks and the lessons they brought me will never escape me as I continue through university and beyond.”
Allison Strauss (NHS’18), also a human science major, calls the opportunity to conduct clinical- and laboratory-based work “phenomenal” and notes that she particularly enjoyed “questioning the mechanisms” behind RSV and looking at possible treatments.
“The lab skills I learned in Argentina will undoubtedly help me in my courses this upcoming year and have given me a strong foundation to build upon,” she says.
Schwartz adds that an important part of the experience involved the opportunity to interact with the community – both in terms of learning about particular health challenges and gaining an understanding of the local culture.
“To see these challenges firsthand and to understand the reach of our laboratory research, we shadowed doctors and residents in clinics and hospitals,” he says. “Since our field of study was local, our educational experiences were most appropriately held where they mattered most – in Argentina. That is to say, the value of what we learned was vastly enhanced by studying a country’s issues in that country. Mostly, this is thanks to the opportunity to interact with that country’s people.”
The program, says Schwartz, helped him “to develop essential scientific skills, provided a first-person view of a unique medical situation, and facilitated immersion into a warm, exciting, and rich culture.”
Strauss agrees and notes that the global experience brought to life concepts she learned in the “Health Care in America” course taught by Robin Goldenberg, MD, FAAP, adjunct professor of health systems administration, and allowed her to compare the countries’ health systems.
‘Many Wonderful People’
Strauss, like Schwartz, is interested in a career in medicine and says she is happy about the opportunity to study abroad amid the busy pre-med curriculum.
“Apart from the classroom, we were able to experience a culture far different from our own,” she says. “The friendships that I made on this trip are lasting, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have met so many wonderful people. I am especially thankful for all the work Professor Irusta did to make this trip possible. I am grateful that the NHS offers a study abroad program geared towards pre-med students – allowing us to fit studying abroad into our time here on the Hilltop.”