Medical School engages in partnership with Indian institute

By Rachel Premack, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 19, 2013

The trip to India by a University delegation led by University President Mary Sue Coleman hopes to spur renewed academic engagement with the world’s largest democracy’s rising economy.

Following Coleman’s previous trips to Brazil, China, Ghana and South Africa, the delegation’s four-day exploration of Mumbai and New Delhi, the nation’s capital, had expansive and renewing effects on the University's partnership with four of India’s most prominent institutions. She also connected with alumni while making her first trip to the nation.

One of the institutions the delegation is connecting with is the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. AIIMS has the only freestanding trauma center in India, according to Krishnan Raghavendran, an associate professor of surgery at the University’s Medical School.

The University of Michigan Health System and AIIMS trauma centers partnered in 2010, but now the entirety of the medical institute and the University’s Medical School are in collaboration.

University medical students may now study at AIIMS, where Raghavendran said students get the opportunity to practice in a totally unfamiliar environment in which tropical ailments, advanced diseases and a lack of resources are daily encounters. He added that it’s important that American medical students accustom themselves to a less-than-plentiful future medical environment so that they’re prepared for the worst.

“The way the current medical system is functioning in this country cannot be sustained over long periods of time,” Raghavendran said. “There is enormous wastage and inefficiency, and we all have to learn how to function with limited resources in the near future.”

AIIMS faculty members already visit the University’s Medical School on a regular basis. This new agreement creates research collaboration on topics such as immunology and stem cells. AIIMS will have access to a low-cost virtual university to educate its staff and more IT resources to expedite their projects and medical libraries, where Raghavendran said doctors can research protocol for handling certain diseases.

AIIMS director Mahesh Misra said in an e-mail that both universities are highly esteemed in their respective countries for research, teaching and healing.

“Both of the institutions however differ somewhat in their disease pattern, and the doctors and researchers have lots to learn from each other,” Misra wrote.

New Delhi and Ann Arbor patients will not be the only beneficiaries: AIIMS is opening six new facilities. The procedures that the University is passing onto the New Delhi institute will be implemented across central and northern India, serving areas that lack comprehensive health care.

AIIMS currently sees 10 times as many patients as the University Hospital. Center for South Asian Studies director Farina Mir — part of the University delegation — explained that India’s enormous population raises interesting questions for students visiting the country.

“How do you work with and operate in a society where everything is at a magnitude big even for us in the United States?” Mir said. “It produces opportunities for us to think big, which Michigan is really good at.”

Undergraduates in India and at the University will benefit from two other alliances formed with Ashoka University and University of Delhi. DU was one of the first universities in India, and is hailed across that country as one of the best undergraduate colleges, particularly for the sciences. Ashoka, conversely, will open in fall 2014 and will focus on the humanities.

Both universities complement the University’s focus on teaching, Mir said.

“The key here is that we want to produce mechanisms that would create opportunities to participate in experimental learning in India,” Mir said. “The core of agreements are around students and student opportunities and exchanges. We’re excited about the opportunities that will open up almost immediately.”

One such educational venture that will soon be open to University students is a 10-day train ride around the subcontinent. Students from other universities on this trip conduct mini research programs, Mir said, like gauging the pollution of each train stop. She added that this differs with study abroad programs where students may not immerse themselves in the country.

“It really would put them right there in the thick of things,” Mir said. “This is going to be a roll-up-your-sleeves type of program.”

DU students will be able to conduct research as undergraduates at the University, an experience that’s rare for undergraduates living in India. Professors at the newly established Ashoka University will benefit from the University’s long teaching heritage.

“Students are at the core of these two projects and we really think that the kinds of opportunities that will come out of this will be mutually beneficial,” Mir said.

The fourth institute to enter an agreement with the University last week was the National Council of Applied Economic Research, the leading survey research institute in India. NCAER and the University’s Survey Research Center hope to explore new methods of research through mobile technology and advanced statistical tools, according to William Axinn, the director of the Survey Research Center.

Axxin wrote that the partnership will allow the University’s web of long-term partners to expand and NCAER to further explore public policy initiatives.

“This gives us the opportunity to both globalize our educational work and advance the social sciences through comparisons across different contexts and settings,” Axxin wrote. “Globalization in general, and work in India specifically, help us to build new approaches, methods, and tools that advance the social sciences worldwide.”