New Support for Research and International Collaboration in Medical Education - Dr. Muzaffar Annaev and Mahzuna Nasretdinova, Samarkand State Medical University in Uzbekistan


We've been fortunate to speak to many medical educators in the United States over the past two years on Raise the Line about the state of medical education and how learning has been impacted by the COVID pandemic. On today’s episode, we happily broaden our scope on these topics to Central Asia with the help of two officials from Samarkand State Medical University in Uzbekistan. Mahzuna Nasretdinova, a deputy in the Vice-Rector's Office for Science and Innovation and Dr. Muzaffar Annaev, Leading Specialist of the Department of Scientific Research and Innovations, join host Shiv Gaglani to describe an exciting period of change and growth at the institution. From just recently achieving independent status, to a renewed focus on research and international collaboration, to greater government support for educators, hospitals, and healthcare providers, Annaev and Nasretdinova have much news to share. Looking forward, they are hoping to build on existing collaborations with external partners such as Elsevier, whose ClinicalKey Student offering has been easy to integrate into SSMU’s learning system. Tune in for an interesting look at the challenges and opportunities of medical education in a critical part of the world.




Shiv Gaglani: Hi, I'm Shiv Gaglani. We've been fortunate to speak to many medical educators in the United States over the past two years on Raise the Line about the state of medical education and how learning has been impacted by the COVID pandemic. 

Today, we're going to broaden our scope on these topics to Central Asia with the help of two officials from the Samarkand State Medical Institute in Uzbekistan. We have Mahzuna Nasretdinova, a deputy in the Vice-Rector's Office for Science and Innovation, and Dr. Muzaffar Annaev, who's a leading specialist of the Department of Scientific Research and Innovations. 

Thank you both for taking the time to be with us today. 

Dr. Muzaffar: Thank you, also.

Shiv: We like to start by hearing the stories of our guests. Can you explain what made you personally interested in becoming a medical educator, going into medicine, and doing health education?

Dr. Muzaffar: Samarkand State Medical University is an alma mater for me. I studied here and I graduated with my bachelor's degree. So, when I was a student, on the other hand, I was also a doctor. And at the same time, I wanted to be a doctor and a medical educator also. 

For this reason, after working for one year as an ambulance doctor in Uzbekistan, I studied for my master's degree in South Korea as a cardiologist at Chungnam National University. This time, actually, was the most important decision-making time for being a medical educator because my supervisor at Chungnam National University inspired me to teach medical students. 

After that, I felt if I became a doctor, maybe I can help hundreds of patients, but if I will be a medical educator by teaching students, I can help maybe a hundred times more people. So, it was an inspirational moment for me. After that, I decided to be a medical educator.  Now, I work in the hospital, also, as a cardiologist.

Shiv: That's great. That's very relatable, from my perspective. I was in medical school at Johns Hopkins and then started Osmosis for the exact same reason of being able to help many, many more people. 

And how about your colleague, Mahzuna? I know you'll have to translate, but we'd love to hear her story as well.

Mahzuna Nasretdinova: (Replies in Uzbek)

Dr. Muzaffar: (translating) Of course, being a doctor is good, but I think, personally for me, it's more interesting in being a scientist and teaching young students, and also, I would like to build our own scientific school at Samarkand State Medical University.

Shiv: Wonderful. Samarkand State Medical University, for the people who are not as familiar with it, is a prestigious institution in Uzbekistan. It's very highly regarded. Can you give us a bit more information on how many students you have, a little more history of the program, and how it's growing? I hear that there's a lot of international expansion beyond Uzbekistan.

Dr. Muzaffar: Let me answer the question because at the same time I work as a Deputy Dean of the International Medical Education faculty at Samarkand State Medical University. By the way, we became a university by special decree of the President which was announced on April 1st. So, we are now Samarkand State Medical University and the base of our university is now planning to open six scientific centers. 

There are more than 8,000 students at the university. It includes bachelor's degree students and also graduate students. With regard to foreign students, we are now on the way to expanding the faculty of International Medical Education. Currently we have 456 students. They are mostly from Pakistan and India. 

Another direction in this faculty is educating foreign students in a second degree. So, after a bachelor's degree, they can study in our university for a second degree with the general medicine faculty. There are forty-eight students in this program, mostly from South Korea. We also have joint educational programs with different countries, including Belarus, Russia, and Poland.  So overall, 650 students study in the faculty of International Medical Education.  

If I speak about the history of Samarkand State Medical University, it is one of the ancient universities, I would say, in Central Asia overall. Not just in Uzbekistan, but in Central Asia. It was founded in 1930. At that time, it was the only medical educational establishment in the whole of Central Asia. Starting from 1930 until now, our university is developing its education and practical fields and is now trying to be the leading university in Uzbekistan.  And I, as a student graduate of this university and as a student that studied abroad also, help to make education quality in this university better. 

Shiv: That's extremely helpful. Thank you for that overview. It's impressive how you've grown since starting almost a hundred years ago in 1930.

Dr. Muzaffar: Yes.

Shiv:  Speaking of making education better, you have a very interesting background. You trained in South Korea, and in Uzbekistan. I'd love to hear some of the innovations and changes you've made to your medical education. For our audience, the way we got in touch with Samarkand State Medical University is through Elsevier. As you know, I suppose, we just joined Elsevier. 

Dr. Muzaffar: Yes.

Shiv: And, I believe, earlier this year you signed a major deal to provide access to the textbooks and other digital resources from Elsevier to your students. What other innovations are you doing to improve medical education for your students?

(Dr. Muzzafar and Mahzuna Nasretdinova confer about the question in Uzbek.)  

Dr. Muzaffar: Okay. We discussed it. In terms of the innovations, I think I found the best position for me in this university. I'm working as a leading specialist in this science department and it's also responsible for innovations. So, with my boss and with the Rector of our University, we are planning to implement some changes and reforms to our education system starting this year.

Actually, at the beginning of this year, by the special decree adopted by the government of Uzbekistan, our university became an independent university. Before now, it was a state university, but what's changed is we became independent in finance and academic aspects. So, it's the right time to make plans for innovations and future reforms. 

According to the business plan of our university, we are starting next year to develop our Moodle system. I think it is the main reason why we are now talking. We want to enrich our Moodle system -- the educational system of our university and the website of our university. We want to enrich the system with foreign resources. 

Earlier, I emphasized the International Medical Education faculty because we are expanding this faculty with a large number of students, and the foreign student interest in studying at our university is rising. For this reason, we wish, firstly, to enrich our Moodle system. It is a remote educational portal of our university. And also, most of our international students wish to work in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries so they want to be able to pass the USMLE examination, or Australian Medical Licensing Examination or the Canadian examination. 

In discussing how to unleash our students' dreams, we decided it would be very beneficial to integrate with foreign resources. For example, Elsevier and ClinicalKey Student were, in our opinion, the best resource for the integration. On top of that, ClinicalKey Student has a tool that provides integration with our Moodle system. We also, to be honest with you, have some other resources like Boards and Beyond, AMBOSS, and others. Unfortunately, one drawback of these systems is they don't have a tool to integrate with the Moodle system. So, our first plan and first direction is to develop our Moodle system. Secondly, we are planning to build a new library for our students. Unfortunately, right now, we don't have enough books in foreign languages

Of course, there are some other plans like the digitalization of our university. We are purchasing the necessary equipment, computers, and so on. I think the first year may be difficult, being a financially independent university, but starting next year, we hope everything will be good. Especially if foreign partners, like you, will support us.

Shiv: Wonderful. Yeah, that's great that you're investing so much in changing and updating and digitizing your education for your students. We started investing in medical education largely because there's been a shortage of clinicians around the world. Can you talk to us a bit about what was the state of health care in Uzbekistan before the pandemic? Were there large physician and nurse shortages there? Can you describe a bit more about the healthcare system in Uzbekistan, and then how that had changed because of the pandemic?

Mahzuna Nasretdinova: (Replies in Uzbek)

Dr. Muzaffar: (translating) Of course, Samarkand State Medical University is one of the leading healthcare establishments in Uzbekistan and it was, even before the pandemic. But the pandemic has increased the significance of medical educational establishments in Uzbekistan. I think it is the same in all countries of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic proved how healthcare professionals are essential to our life. 

In Uzbekistan, our government -- including Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the current President of Uzbekistan -- and healthcare officials adopted necessary laws during the pandemic which increased quotas for medical institutions, especially for those facilities in which there was a shortage of specialists. For example, our university increased the quota for students who study infectious diseases. And also, the average salary of health care professionals and doctors have been increased and this year, it's also supposed to be increasing because the whole world -- including Uzbekistan -- has seen how this profession is important to provide a healthy lifestyle in Uzbekistan. 

Another change, I would say, is improving the financial aspects of the hospitals. In this regard, I cannot say exact numbers, but there was a significant increase.  And as I mentioned before, our university is founding six scientific centers. The government and our university are paying more attention to scientific researchers. It is one of our weakest points, unfortunately. However, our university is trying to improve the scientific aspect.

Shiv: That's very helpful. Thank you for that pretty comprehensive overview. It's great to hear that you have the government support in terms of both increasing the number of enrollments in the school, but also the salary of providers so that more people stay in the profession for longer and decide to go into it.  It's great to hear about the research focus your university has, as well. 

My last question for you is, is there anything else you'd like our global medical education audience to know about yourself or Samarkand State Medical University or Uzbekistan in general?

Mahzuna Nasretdinova: (Replies in Uzbek)

Dr. Muzaffar: (translating) On behalf of Samarkand State Medical University, we are very grateful for Elsevier and for you, Osmosis, and ClinicalKey Student. Actually, all these medical educational platforms have really helped us during the trial period of the subscription. Our students, our professors and the faculty members really expressed how it is useful, especially the interactive tools of ClinicalKey Student, which provides interaction between the students and professors. 

Also, between our university and Elsevier there is a long history of cooperation. Our university really hopes this cooperation will develop and improve next year and in the future. We really hope that Elsevier will continue to support our university especially when we are taking our first steps as an independent educational establishment in Uzbekistan. 

Speaking for myself, I would like to note and to say to those people who are listening to our podcast that in Central Asia, in Uzbekistan, Samarkand University is trying to cooperate with, and is on the way to a collaboration with, the leading universities of the U.S. and European countries. If you cooperate with us, we are always ready to work with you and we are ready for whatever we can do. 

Shiv: That's wonderful. I know our colleagues at Elsevier are very excited about this collaboration and partnership. We appreciate the opportunity to work with you all and help improve both medical training in Uzbekistan, as well as the health care system overall. So, thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate both of you hopping on.

Dr. Muzaffar: Thank you. 

Shiv: And with that, I'd like to thank our audience for listening to this podcast and to remind them that this is a global issue of health education and overcoming the COVID pandemic, and together we can raise the line.