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U President Bob Bruininks, Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, and former Vice President Walter Mondale

Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, president of Sweden's Karolinska Institute, recently dined with President Bob Bruininks, left, and former vice president Walter Mondale, along with University faculty and former governor Wendell Anderson, to celebrate the successful collaboration between the Karolinska and the U.

Cultivating a world perspective on medicine

Karolinska/U program a model for international exchange

By Shelly Hochhalter

April 19, 2006

The Karolinska Institute is one of the largest and most prestigious medical universities in Europe, well known as the setting for the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. In 1997, a chance meeting on the streets of Stockholm between former Minnesota governor Wendell Anderson and University otolaryngology professor Steven Juhn resulted in the prototypical exchange program for globalizing the Medical School's curriculum and research mission.

Juhn, who had spent a year at the Karolinska as a visiting faculty member in biochemical research, was in Sweden to attend a conference. Recognizing Anderson on a street corner, the two met for dinner and discussed the benefits of scientific exchange programs. Anderson secured approval from the Karolinska Institute and presented the idea to the late Curt Carlson, a Minneapolis native of Swedish heritage and founder of Carlson Companies. Carlson donated $500,000 and the U matched his contribution, creating a $1 million endowment to support an exchange program between the U and Karolinska.

Each year, the University sends up to six medical students to the Karolinska, while six Karolinska students come to study at the U. The exchange exposes students to a distinct culture, a different outlook on education, a socialized approach to health care, and new ideas, which students can later incorporate into their own practice.

The U has a number of international medical school exchange affiliations, but the Karolinska exchange is the only program with an endowment. Further international exchange programs are being cultivated after the model of the Karolinska program, including exchanges in India, Peru, and Africa.

U med student Sabra Lofgren had the opportunity to participate in the Karolinska exchange in 2004. "One... practice that I would like to incorporate someday is the greater use of nurses as patient educators," says Lofgren. "This is happening to some extent in the United States, but is far more widely utilized in Sweden. Nurse educators work with the patient and family in regular follow-ups to manage issues. This is a great example of more appropriate allocations of resources to better treat patients and keep costs down."

Lofgren also notes that there are many remarkable cultural aspects of Sweden--the importance of balance in life, recycling, national health care, order, and personal privacy.

Medical education is as much about experience as it is about assimilating information from a textbook or a classroom discussion. International exchange programs offer a unique experience for students and faculty. More importantly, exchange programs like the one between the University of Minnesota Medical School and Karolinska Institute set the stage for research expansion and improvements in health care.

"This type of exchange program yields tremendous intellectual capital for the University," says Phillip Peterson, U professor and director of the Medical School's International Medical Education and Research Program. Since the beginning of the exchange program, faculty and students have combined resources and experience to collaborate on research in the disciplines of neuroscience, otolaryngology, radiation oncology, inflammation and infectious diseases, and, most recently, stem cells. Peterson sees both economic value and research benefits in collaborating between programs as the exchange of ideas gives headway to scientific study.

"The Curtis L. Carlson University of Minnesota/Karolinska Institute Medical Research and Education Exchange Program is a terrific model of what philanthropy can do," says Peterson. The U has a number of international medical school exchange affiliations, but the Karolinska exchange is the only program with an endowment.

Further international exchange programs are being cultivated after the model of the Karolinska program, including exchanges in India, Peru, and Africa. "We're on the look-out for another person like Curt Carlson, a person whose heart is in one of those countries and who sees the remarkable benefits of international exchange," says Peterson.