Around two Weeks after returning from Moscow and my naming as the new Head of the Academic Writing Office in Sechenov Medical University, I was off again, and this time my destination was Cluj Napoca in Transylvania, Rumania. Just as many believe that Spain is only flamenco singers and bullfighters, many believe that Transylvania is Count Dracula. However, I have found it to be a fascinating melting pot of cultures, good cuisine, with very welcoming people, eager to teach, and learn. So, when invited to participate in Medicalis, I readily accepted.
The University of Medicine and Pharmacy at Cluj Napoca held the 17th edition of Medicalis, an International Congress for Medical students and Young Health Professionals, and the organising committee led by Iulia Jurca, responsible for lectures and oral presentations invited me to make an hour presentation on a topic of my choice. This invitation was a suggestion from colleagues at the Department of Foreign Languages, led by Oana Muresan, who I had met at a conference the year before in another city in Rumania. I was extremely happy to be able to represent Sechenov for the first time so soon after signing up as the first foreign staff member, and I was also interested to be the only non-medical plenary speaker.
Cluj Medical University is the oldest medical education institution in Transylvania, and some say the best in Rumania. It is certainly up and coming, as there are many new buildings, along with a strong vitality both in the Medical University but also in the city in general, which I was told has been completely transformed in the last 10 years. You can certainly sense that; a small city with a population of 300,000 and a University student population of 100,000, a youthful and energetic “feel” to it, which made my whole weekend a very enjoyable and rewarding professional and personal experience. The Medical University is named after Professor Iuliu Hatieganu (1885-1959), an internal medicine expert, famous for his research work on tuberculosis. His quotation –
“In medicine, science and consciousness are nurtured by love of people” caught my attention for two reasons: first, it highlights my view that probably the most important thing in medical practice is the “humanities” and second, it reminded me of Professor Irina Markovina.
I gave my talk “Introducing the Humanities into Medical Education and Medical English” to a crowded theatre of around eighty medical students from different years and different countries. I counted 8 nationalities, and they were surprised but intrigued and interested in my talk. I used texts from writers who are also doctors (a subject that fascinates me), and one clip from a film called “The Doctor” to introduce topics such as: is medicine an art? Is disease a democratising force? can you learn to give bad news? and how can you feel empathy for the patient? I did not expect to get the answers, as there is no one answer but I wanted to incite debate and raise awareness of how important this humanistic side to medicine will become as technology increases. I wanted the students to take home some ideas and questions with them, and judging by their response they did.
I was also asked to give a workshop on “An Introduction to Academic writing”, and so the next day I gave a 2-hour workshop about the topic. I spoke about the importance of writing up your research work, the format of scientific papers, some aspects of good writing, and then made the students work in groups on three subjects: concision, clarity and simplicity. I was delighted by the students’ appreciation, enthusiasm and ideas. I ended my talk with Rudyard Kipling’s quotation from an after dinner speech to the Royal College of Surgeons of London in 1923: “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind”. As important now as then; both for doctors and the layman.
I hope to use my new post in Sechenov to be able to build links with the Cluj Napoca Medical University, and while discussing the new Office at the end of April Professor Markovina and I had an extremely productive and engaging meeting with the Vice Rector, Professor A. Svistunov, where, amongst other things, we discussed introducing English into the teaching process of the university, and particularly into clinical subjects, as part of the creation of the English Friendly Environment. Curiously enough, this sentiment was succinctly epitomized by a Rumanian Endocrinologist, Dr Bota, now working in Texas, USA who said:
“Do not teach English, teach in English”.