A Romanian  Homecoming

December 12, 2001

Heather Heilman
Phone: 865-5714

Sanda Clejan and her husband left Romania in 1961 after bitter experiences under the communist regime. They thought they would never go back. But this January, Clejan, a professor of pathology, will return to Romania for the first time in 40 years.

She will spend six months at the Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Bucharest, where she will teach faculty and students about American methods of medical education and an integrated approach to teaching laboratory medicine. In the United States, Clejan often found herself approached by young Romanian-trained doctors who wanted to work in this country.

Although they were bright and talented, they often had a hard time passing their board exams and an even harder time adjusting to the American medical system. She tried to help. She also became concerned that Romanian students were not adequately prepared to cope with the rapid changes of modern medicine.

She began corresponding with the president of the medical school in Bucharest, who was well aware of the problem. "They have good people, but they were so isolated for so many years," Clejan said. "The Carol Davila University is an old medical school that is well known in Europe. But the school relies on old-fashioned teaching methods that emphasize rote memorization and that have become something of a handicap."

Romanian medical students need a high-quality education, because they face huge challenges. The nation's health-care system descended into chaos in the 1990s and is still recovering. The country is also moving toward instituting board exams similar to the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. They want to move toward the American method of teaching medical students.

"We prepare good physicians here," Clejan said. "I've corresponded with them about how we integrate basic science into clinical science. They're very interested." She applied for and received a Fulbright fellowship that will allow her to go to Romania. In order to prepare for her trip, she's been working closely with Sheila Chauvin, director of educational research and services at the medical school and assistant professor of psychiatry.

"Sheila is training me to do all this work," Clejan said. "There's a lot of medical education research that I intend to do with her help."

The two hope to develop a model that could be used to update medical education in other post-Soviet countries. Although she's going to Bucharest to teach, she expects she will also learn a great deal. Romanian medical education is very practical, with students in clinical settings from the beginning of their education.

Clejan intends to give her lectures in English, a language in which most Romanian students are proficient. She said her own Romanian is rusty. Her French will also get a workout, as that is the language many of the older faculty members speak instead of English. Clejan herself attended a Catholic primary school in Romania where French was spoken. As she's been preparing for her trip, the scope of her work there has expanded.

She will be speaking and conducting workshops at other medical schools in Romania, and possibly in Moldavia and Greece as well. In New Orleans she directs the chemical pathology laboratories at Tulane Hospital and the core laboratories of the Tulane-Louisiana State University General Clinical Research Center, and she may visit hospitals in Romania to share some of her expertise in modern laboratory methods and clinical research.

Clejan is clearly excited about the work she will do in Romania. But her personal feelings about the trip are mixed. "After the 11th of September, I'm not really eager to leave here," she said. But she remembers the physical beauty of her homeland and looks forward to seeing its mountains again. And there are relatives and old friends she will see for the first time in decades. So in January, with 120 pounds of teaching materials and many bittersweet memories in tow, Clejan will go home again.

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