Program provides look into Russian health care and culture

POSTED AT 12:39 PM ON Nov. 24, 2008 


Not many people can say that they have been inducted as honorary Cossacks.

But for senior Jeffrey Truelock, his experience in the old city of Starocherkassk, Russia was his favorite part of studying abroad.

Truelock was one of the 10 students who studied in Rostov on Don, Russia as a part of the US/Russia Health Care Program this summer. The program is now accepting applicants for the 2009 trip.

The US/Russia Health Care Program teaches students about the differences between American and Russian health care systems and culture. Participants take classes during the spring semester relating to Russian health care, and then spend two weeks in May visiting health care sites in Rostov.

The program was started last year by staff at IU, IU-Purdue University Indianapolis and Southern Federal University in Russia. Professor Olena Chernishenko applied for the FIPSE grant, which funds the program. She said in an e-mail interview that the program was unique because these funds provide stipends for participating students, so much of the trip is paid for.

As a requirement for the program, students are required to take two out of the three special spring classes meant to prepare students for their experience abroad. The Global Health Dialogue is a class meant to teach students the differences between American and Russian health care systems and their approaches. Professor Natalia Rekhter, who teaches the course, said IU students often interact and share their ideas with other American and Russian students during the class through the Internet.

Students also take a Russian language class, either survival Russian for beginning speakers or specialized Russian, which teaches health care-themed vocabulary.

“You receive a comprehensive background before you go abroad and receive language training in a short amount of time. Studying abroad is the culmination of everything you learn,” said Brigid Henry, graduate assistant for the program.

In May, students spend two weeks in Rostov on Don, Russia, visiting health care facilities and putting what they learned into practice. On last year’s trip, the group visited medical centers, health insurance companies, a neurological hospital, an alternative health clinic called “The Health Palace” and an AIDS clinic. They also enjoyed cultural experiences, such as visiting the old city of Starocherkassk and seeing the Russian circus.

One of the most important aspects of the program, Rekhter said, is interacting with Russian students.

“It’s important because it’s an introduction to different cultural norms, and it’s neat to build relationships with them,” she said.

While in Russia, participants meet their Russian counterparts and later are host to them when they visit the United States. Truelock recalled eating Russian food with his new friends’ families and attending a cookout with Russian students on the banks of the River Don.

Though there is only enough funding in the FIPSE grant for two years of the program, Chernishenko said she hopes that they will be able to secure enough funds to continue.

Program organizers are also looking into organizing another trip next year looking at a different field, perhaps engineering.

Applications for the 2009 US/Russia Health Care Program are now online, and they are due Dec. 1. Because of the success of the program last year, Chernishenko and Rekhter expect more applicants and more spots available.

Henry said the program appeals to a large group of people, including students from social work, health sciences, political science, business, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, nursing and many others.

“One can only experience so much through reading and imagination,” Truelock said. “There is certainly no substitute for cultural immersion, and I would recommend this program for anyone with an interest in global health care and a sense of adventure.” 
Henry agreed about the enormity of this opportunity.

“It has great funding and it’s only a two week commitment,” Henry said. “Why not go?”

Students can apply by going to


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