The Ambassador Exchange Program Year II: Moscow and Addis Ababa

Until this past March, the closest Michael McDermott, MD, University of Colorado Hospital, Aurora, had come to Ethiopia was his one-year stint on the Sinai Peninsula during a U.S. Army international peacekeeping mission. Many years later, his sense of adventure and the Endocrine Society’s Ambassador Exchange Program brought him back to North Africa, where he and his trainee, Katy Brown, DO, became immersed in the vibrant city of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

Into Africa

McDermott and Brown’s two-week trip to Ethiopia included a packed itinerary. They assisted with the Black Line Hospital’s new endocrinology fellowship program and shared the most up-to-date treatment methods from the U.S.

“There is a great need for endocrinology training in this region because of the enormous burden of diabetes and the high incidence of thyroid disease,” McDermott explains.

He and Brown studied local methods for handling endocrine diseases despite limited resources. Outside of the hospital, McDermott also indulged his lifelong interest in history and geography by exploring Ethiopian culture. Their hosts, Ahmed Reja, MD, College of Health Sciences at Addis Ababa University, and trainee Helen Yifter, MD, graciously shared the many highlights of the capital city.

The physicians had never met prior to the Ambassador Exchange Program, but Reja had been familiar with McDermott’s published articles and book, Endocrine Secrets. He was thrilled to have the help and expertise of the American doctors, as his new endocrinology program has only three endocrinologists on staff to serve the entire population.

“We took this opportunity to gain knowledge and skills from our U.S. partners, but I also believe that this program exposes our American colleagues to the global health aspect of endocrinology,” Reja says. He hopes that the exchange will result in collaboration on future research projects.

The experience will continue when Reja and Yifter travel to Denver in June to spend two weeks on McDermott’s turf at the University of Colorado Hospital. Afterward, they will attend the ICE\ENDO 2014 conference in Chicago.

From Russia with Love

The Ethiopian doctors will not be the only ambassadors in residence at this year’s annual meeting. Dmitry Beltsevich, MD, PhD, Department of Surgery at the Endocrinology Research Center in Moscow, and his trainee, Daria Gazizova, also plan to partake in the many endocrine-related sessions and activities in Chicago.

The two Russian endocrinologists will not need to travel far because their exchange is bringing them to Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in the Windy City. They will be hosted by Cord Sturgeon, MD, FACS, and Max Flynn, MD, PhD, who spent two weeks in Moscow with them last April.

Beltsevich actually learned about the Society’s exchange program during ENDO 2013 in San Francisco. He heard about the opportunity during a conference breakfast, and later Gazizova submitted an application without telling him. Their selection thus came as a pleasant surprise.

Chicago will be Beltsevich’s third trip to the U.S. and his third ENDO attendance. He and Gazizova are particularly excited to work with Sturgeon, as they share a common focus in endocrine surgery.

“We are interested in any information regarding endocrine surgery, especially in thyroid and parathyroid diseases, adrenal tumors, islet cells tumors of pancreas, and hereditary peculiarities of all these diseases,” Beltsevich explains. “We also hope to learn from the everyday work of the Northwestern surgery department, as well as existing diagnostic and treatment approaches used in the hospital.”

Sturgeon and Flynn’s visit to Russia brought much excitement to the endocrine community. Sturgeon held three lectures about thyroid cancer and parathyroid diseases that were very well attended by doctors in Moscow. The trip demonstrated a consistent spirit of collaboration and diplomacy among endocrinologists, despite current political tensions between the two countries.

A Lasting Impact

“The importance of the Ambassador Exchange Program cannot be overestimated,” Beltsevich says. He goes on to describe how the transfer of knowledge improves medicine in developing countries. “Current approaches of evidence-based medicine are great challenges for Russian endocrine surgeons. The exchange has brought us many benefits.”

Reja agrees with Beltsevich’s sentiment and thinks that the Ambassador Exchange Program is helpful for bilateral relations. “It gives our American partners an opportunity to know and understand different cultures and promote friendship,” he explains. “Academically, it widened our horizons of understanding of medicine and endocrinology. It is my sincere hope this exchange has also been beneficial for Dr. McDermott and Dr. Brown.”

Rest assured, McDermott walked away with many positive impressions from the experience. “The program encourages bidirectional learning of mutual benefit, because it promotes goodwill and international cooperation in solving endocrinology health issues around the world,” he says.

Although in just its second year, the Endocrine Society’s Ambassador Exchange Program has already sent experts to South Africa and India in addition to Russia and Ethiopia. The initiative continues to recruit top applicants for future trips, and the Society hopes to extend the program for many years to come.

— Mapes is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. She wrote about obesity and dementia in the February issue.

For more information or to apply to participate in this program, visit

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