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Winter 2012

Opening Doors in Malaysia

Classes begin at a new medical school in Kuala Lumpur.

Date: February 1, 2012

Just over a year ago, Hopkins veteran Charlie Wiener was teaching, directing the Osler Medical Training Program, and reviewing results of the Genes to Society curriculum that he helped to shape at Johns Hopkins. Today he is half a world away from Baltimore, leading a new medical school in Malaysia—built on the Hopkins framework—that opened its doors in September.

“The fact that we were ready to have a class to teach in only nine months is really mind-boggling. Just accepting the U.S. system of education represents a huge culture change here,” says Wiener of the Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine, which welcomed its first class of 25 students—three-quarters of them women—to temporary headquarters last fall. Most of the school’s teachers are Hopkins faculty members on leave from Baltimore.

Until now, Malaysia has used only the British system of medical education. It calls for students to begin their five-year training as undergraduates, usually at the age of 18 or 19, instead of waiting until they obtain the bachelor’s degree that is required in America. With more education and maturity, American reasoning goes, college graduates are better prepared to enter rigorous training programs. The new school follows Hopkins’ Genes to Society curriculum, a course of study that aims to train doctors to deliver individualized medicine.

Johns Hopkins Medicine signed an agreement to help create Malaysia’s first four-year graduate medical program—as well as to design Perdana University Hospital, a 600-bed facility, and a research institute—in fall 2010. The three facilities, scheduled for completion in 2014, will occupy a 130-acre site, roughly the size of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center’s campus.

When tapped as dean, Wiener agreed to find students, faculty, and a temporary school location equipped with high-tech teaching resources in time for the 2011-2012 academic year. By last summer, workmen had transformed more than 100,000 square feet of convention building space near Kuala Lumpur into 21st-century classrooms and labs. Recruiting sessions at local universities, as well as social networking efforts, produced 70 applications by July 31. Students were accepted in August.

“The fact that we have 25 in the first class is terrific,” says David Nichols, vice dean of education at Hopkins Medicine. “We’re right in the sweet spot with the size of the faculty and lots of small groups and one-on-one mentorship.”

Nichols is helping to coordinate Perdana’s development in his role as director of the Johns Hopkins Dr. Mohan Swami Institute for International Medical Education, a new institute dedicated to improving patient care by improving medical education.

“We’ve gotten a class of the best students in Malaysia who are willing to try something new,” Nichols says. “They know they are pioneers and that we are, too. Now we’re going into uncharted territory together to build something that the country needs: doctors who are more mature and better trained.” 

Linell Smith