In 1998, during his final year of medical school at Damascus University in Syria, Khaldoun Tarakji, MD, MPH, realized how hard it would be to get advanced medical training in the U.S.
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“I contacted multiple programs, seeking an observership or internship opportunity, but many were not available to me as a foreign graduate,” he says. “I finally found one at a small hospital in Michigan. After a few months, I applied for a medicine residency and matched at Cleveland Clinic.”
The rest is history. Dr. Tarakji completed his residency and multiple fellowships at Cleveland Clinic, and now is an electrophysiologist in its Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute. In addition to directing the electrophysiology outpatient department and cardiac remote monitoring, he serves as primary investigator of several national and international clinical trials. He’s published more than 45 manuscripts in high-tier medical journals. He also serves as an assistant professor at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.
“I am who I am because of Cleveland Clinic, but I owe it all to that small hospital in Michigan that gave me the opportunity,” he says.
Dr. Tarakji looks forward to providing opportunities to many more international physicians in his new position as Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for International Medical Education (CIME). He took on the role in March 2017.
In this Q&A, Dr. Tarakji and CIME administrator Maria Hunt explain more about the value of offering education programs to physicians around the world.
Q: Why does Cleveland Clinic have a Center for International Medical Education? What need does it fill?
Dr. Tarakji: We live in a world that’s constantly reminding us of our differences, but medicine reminds us of our similarities. At international medical meetings, our goals are similar. Our medical language is similar, and the challenges are shared. There’s no question that through medicine and medical education we can build bridges across the globe.
Cleveland Clinic is an example of the success that comes from international collaboration. Our diversity among staff members is one of our greatest assets. CIME is an extension of Cleveland Clinic’s mission to care for the sick, investigate their problems and educate those who serve. We’re now doing all of that globally.
Hunt: From an education standpoint, CIME does a lot more than help “fill the gap” for foreign medical graduates who want to apply for a residency or fellowship in the U.S. We provide medical students, residents and practicing physicians from around the world an exceptional opportunity to learn from our highly dedicated and experienced staff. Through these programs participants experience firsthand Cleveland Clinic’s model of care, learn specialized topics and return home to better serve their patients.
Q: How are CIME’s offerings distinct?
Hunt: CIME has been around in some form since the mid-1970s and today is part of Cleveland Clinic’s Education Institute. We offer an array of visiting physician programs, but we also customize programs that we can conduct in the U.S. or abroad. Recently, we hosted a group of nearly 100 physicians from China who came to Cleveland for cardiology training. Soon we will take a group of Cleveland Clinic physicians to Argentina to present a transplant training program to more than 300 specialists there.
While other U.S. medical centers may support occasional international training activities, Cleveland Clinic is one of the only centers with a fully managed operation and a multilingual dedicated team.
Dr. Tarakji: Clinically, we at Cleveland Clinic regularly handle patient cases that other centers may never encounter. We have medical professionals with a wealth of skills, using the most innovative technologies and advanced techniques. And we work with a unique spirit of teamwork, collegiality and putting patients first. All of that makes the experience of a CIME program quite distinctive.
Q: What are your goals for CIME in the months and years ahead?
Dr. Tarakji: Over the past decade, 9,000 physicians from 123 countries have come through CIME. We’d like to study where CIME visitors are two or three years after completing one of our programs. We’d like to learn how Cleveland Clinic impacted their careers. For caregivers, there is no larger reward than a message or a thank-you card from a grateful patient, and for educators there is no bigger satisfaction than seeing the career of someone you have helped evolve, blossom and mature.
Just recently, a cardiologist in Peru was telling us how he’d come to Cleveland Clinic 27 years ago to learn about echocardiography, a new technology at the time. He’s now working in a leadership role at his medical center. A colorectal surgeon in Turkey came to Cleveland Clinic for a one- or two-month educational program and now is chair of his department. We’d like to track and report outcomes like these — and, of course, continue to connect international audiences with educational opportunities at Cleveland Clinic.
Q: How has your personal experience prepared you to serve as Medical Director of CIME?
Dr. Tarakji: As an electrophysiologist, I’ve witnessed the advent of subcutaneous defibrillators, leadless pacemakers, smartphone-based heart monitors and many other innovations — all since completing my fellowship training. Medical technology is progressing at an unprecedented rate. I’ve seen firsthand how continuing medical education is not just valuable, but necessary.
At Cleveland Clinic, we’ve been at the forefront, helping lead clinical trials and spearheading new developments in various specialties. We have a lot to share with other medical professionals. However, when you travel and interact with physicians internationally, you realize that even leading centers like Cleveland Clinic can learn from healthcare systems in other parts of the world. Hospitals in less advanced areas can teach us new ways to improve efficiency, increase cost savings and minimize waste. We have a great incentive to build professional relationships and help each other.
I am proud to join this wonderful and highly dedicated CIME team. As a citizen of the world, I look forward to helping further the mission of CIME, the reputation of Cleveland Clinic and the capabilities of physicians around the globe.