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Medical Diplomacy

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By Laura Freeman

Published: January 17, 2022

Dr. Mendelsohn with Chinese fellows who were receiving their graduating certificate at a previous in-person program.

A simple look at history shows how changeable international relations can be. Yesterday’s foes are today’s friends. An election in one country can derail a treaty in another. Alliances may change, but long personal and professional relationships can be a stabilizing influence that keeps the world on course toward peace.

At a time of tensions between the U.S. and Asia, it may come as a surprise that Alabama physicians have been building strong relationships with their counterparts in China for decades. The latest example of this international cooperation was the 2021 Annual Cardiology Conference focusing on the effects of COVID-19 on the heart, presented online through the joint efforts of cardiologists at Birmingham’s Cardiology PC, the American Heart Association and the World Association of Chinese Cardiologists.

“Over the past ten years, Cardiology PC has sponsored an international teaching program that brought around 100 cardiologists from China to train with us for three months and observe the latest innovations in cardiology and care techniques that we use. It’s the only U.S. program to receive a certificate from the Chinese Ministry of Health,” Cardiology PC interventional cardiologist Hutton Brantley, DO, said.

When the pandemic lockdown made international travel impossible, Brantley, who is Program Director of the Annual Cardiovascular Conference, and his partners at Cardiology PC began to look for alternatives that would allow them to continue building their relationship with health care professionals in China.

“We decided that a virtual cardiology conference that could be accessed online and downloaded or viewed by session was our answer,” Brantley said. “Viewers in China and other parts of the world could use the We Chat platform to download each session. They could also review episodes by topic on YouTube. This allowed us to continue communicating at a critical time when cardiologists everywhere were fighting COVID-19.”

The virtual conference was well-received. It established a conduit for communicating the latest information on the heart health effects of the COVID-19 virus, a problem that all nations have in common.

Farrell Mendelsohn, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Cardiology PC, is the Director of the Chinese Cardiovascular Fellowship Program at Baptist Princeton. Mendelsohn said, “While maintaining communication on the heart effects of COVID-19 has been important, from a larger perspective, maintaining a strong professional relationship and personal ties between the people of our two countries at a time of stress could be an even greater contribution to the future of all our people.

“Through the common ground of health care, we can bridge the differences. Focusing on people rather than politics and sharing the interests we have in common can help us maintain the connections we have built through years of friendship and professional cooperation.”

Co-chairmen of 2021 Cardiology Conference were Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, president of the American Heart Association and Professor Yong Huo, MD, FCC, Chairman of the World Association of Chinese Cardiologists. Lectures by Cardiology PC cardiologists were in English, and Chinese portions of the program had English subtitles.

Lectures on seven topics were set up in individual programs that could be downloaded and viewed much like a Netflix series. The lectures covered current knowledge of COVID’s effects on clots and venous thrombosis, myocarditis, the use of ECMO support and other related topics.

“We are currently working toward presenting another online conference for 2022, which will provide information on new developments in cardiology and updates on current information on the cardiovascular effects of COVID-19,” Brantley said.

Mendelsohn added, “As soon as the pandemic is sufficiently under control to allow more reliable international travel, we plan to relaunch our Chinese Health Fellows Teaching Program to continue building and maintaining our bridges to the world.

“We would also like to acknowledge that the relationship Birmingham has established with the cardiology and medical community in China was built on 40 years of outreach by former Stamford Dean of Pharmacy Charles Sands III, PharmD. Sands’ work in Asia and through the MedEd Global Advisory Board have been part of his mission to share knowledge of healing with the world. We are proud to share in the effort to continue taking that mission forward into the future.”

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