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Model of discipline and organisation
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 23 - 03 - 2017

In April 2013 Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who was minister of defence at the time, issued a decree calling for the establishment of the Armed Forces College of Medicine (AFCM). The application process was set in motion immediately and the studies began less than a year later. Al-Ahram Weekly took a special tour of the college in tandem with the visit of the internationally reputed Egyptian coronary surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, who was given a very warm reception there two weeks ago. The event opened with a review of the performance of the college delivered by its director, General Ayman Al-Sayed. It was attended by other academic staff members and many students who were either present in the college's conference room or followed the proceedings from various lecture rooms through a video link-up.
Addressing a question as to the need for an Armed Forces medical college, General Al-Sayed noted that the idea was practised in many developed nations. He explained that the purpose was to develop Egypt's resources of professional, highly qualified doctors equipped with the skills and know-how to provide outstanding services and to contribute to scientific research and development. Armed with this expertise, combined with the growing medical capacities and resources of the Armed Forces and the well-known trait of military discipline that the Egyptian Armed Forces applies to all its tasks, this corps of doctors and scientists is expected to steer Egypt to the medical vanguard in the region and the college, itself, will become a centre for scientific and medical research at the service of all medical facilities and institutions.
The AFCM director stressed that prospective students at the college had to meet a number of strict criteria. They had to have a secondary school science department degree with a sufficiently high grade point average, and they also had to meet the conditions for enrolment in other military colleges, meaning that they had to pass a battery of physical and psychological tests to which have been added, more recently, tests in English and computer skills. He added that students at the college are awarded the same military rank as graduates from the military academy of the same year of application as their curriculum includes military as well as medical sciences.
The college seeks to attract the best professors from Egypt's faculties of medicine. This, General Al-Sayed said, is crucial to the achievement of the college's goals and its determination to produce the most highly qualified medical professionals in order to advance the college's mission to develop the system of medicine and healthcare in Egypt in general. He added that AFCM is equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories and sophisticated training and research equipment. The laboratory design itself was intended to serve as a model for medical colleges throughout the Middle East.
A high point of the event was the dialogue between Sir Yacoub and students, in which it emerged that the college can hire academic staff members with outstanding curricula vitae, all of which list a plethora of significant scientific contributions. Sir Yacoub, who is a member of the college's scientific and academic board, was highly impressed with the faculty as well as with the quality of the student body. He noted that students in the various departments are focused on collaborative scientific projects with colleagues in Egypt and abroad which he regarded as another of the college's assets. However, he also advised students to get greater exposure to work in hospitals in tandem with their academic and theoretical studies.
The academic curriculum is complemented by a military syllabus which includes a full physical education regime, for which purpose the college had the latest exercise equipment, sports facilities and training expertise for students in collaboration with the Egyptian Armed Forces athletics agency.
The AFCM director also explained that the curriculum and methodology provided for the integration of related medical subjects or disciplines, so as to underscore their interrelations and use this as a means to promote greater clarity and understanding.
In addition, the college has a policy of minimising student numbers in a classroom or lecture hall so as to maximise student benefit and interaction. General lecture sessions are limited to a maximum of 100 students while tutorial and laboratory sessions are limited to a maximum of 13 students per class. This relatively small class size is more conducive to PBL, or problem-based learning methodology, that the college applies as one of its core pedagogic approaches. With PBL, students, individually or in groups, are given certain problems to solve, requiring various forms of interaction with others and entailing different types of cognitive processes, all of which combine to enhance cognitive skills, interpersonal skills and character development of the individual who is both doctor and officer in the Armed Forces.
In addition, the director said, students are exposed relatively early in their training to patients in hospitals. Beginning their second year, this clinical component is important to enable students to acquire a better grasp of theory.
Teaching staff member Dr Sherine Wagih spoke of the continual appraisal system applied in the college, not just with regard to student performance but also performance of the staff and the efficacy of the curricula and pedagogic approaches. Periodic progress tests are given every 10 days on average. The results are scientifically analysed in order to facilitate understanding of the pedagogic chain of imparting information in a way that can be grasped and assimilated by the student. Dr Wagih added that the medical curricula are also regularly revised so as to ensure they remain realistic and up-to-date with the latest advances in medicine. A very successful experiment, with regard to practical medical training, was the workshop organised in collaboration with the International Red Cross on how do deal with corpses in emergencies and crises. Both the students and the IRC representatives were pleased with the results.
AFCM faculty member Dr Azza Al-Adawi also underscored the holistic nature of the college's curriculum and approach. Students were marked not only for their academic performance, but also on practical application and even on how they interacted with patients. The college offers a model for a comprehensive personal development-ethical-academic approach to education. It is a constructive system not to be in the college's counterparts, she said, adding that lecturers are also required to regularly update their curricula and lessons to incorporate the latest developments in their disciplines. She also underscored the ongoing interaction and mutual support among staff members and, in accordance with the instructions from the Armed Forces General Command, the bonds of collaboration and cooperation in diverse fields with other faculties of medicine in Egypt and elsewhere in the world. Indeed, the AFCM has signed a number of cooperation protocols with other colleges of medicine, such as the Port Said and Suez Canal colleges of medicine in Egypt, the Leeds College of Medicine in the UK and the Sharjah College of Medicine.
The protocols provide for “twinning” between the colleges with an eye to enhancing the AFCM's capacities for planning, curricula development, enhanced teaching technologies, student support and evaluation, teacher performance assessment and other administrative and pedagogic processes. Also, the protocols provide for academic exchanges, study grants and interaction through summer programmes in such fields as aerospace medicine, submarine medicine and basic surgery skills. The agreements also work to support the AFCM's ability to engage in collaborative projects such as applied specialised research in social service, to organise and participate in annual academic and medical conferences and seminars, and to co-host and engage in joint workshops on medical education and research.
The AFCM hosts, organises and participates in an annual medical conference to which it invites students from various Egyptian faculties of medicine. In addition, it hosts and carries out seminars in various medical disciplines or specialised subjects, organises skills-enhancement training programmes for students or recent graduates, and sponsors applied research in various fields related to public healthcare.
The AFCM has also taken the lead, in Egypt and the region, in publicising and disseminating its students' research abroad and in giving them as many opportunities as possible to take part in medical conferences abroad. It is currently enhancing opportunities for post-graduate studies in various disciplines. Civilians will be able to apply for Masters or PhDs on condition that their applications are approved by the General Command and they meet all the AFCM's acceptance criteria.
Amr Ashraf, a third-year student at the college, told Al-Ahram Weekly that one of the most important things he learned there was the need for everything to be carefully calculated, thought out, and timetabled. This will help one become successful in his career and instil in him a sense of responsibility, he said.
Maged Rida, a student with the Fourth Division, said that research topics assigned in the college are carried out in collaboration with students from other medical faculties in Egypt, which promotes the exchange of knowledge and expertise. Students are assigned research tasks on a regular basis as part of their education, he said, adding that they are provided with everything they need for their education and training, in accordance with the latest methodologies. The AFCM is a model for discipline and organisation that should be emulated by all other colleges in Egypt, he said.
Another student, Ahmed Yehia, held that adjusting to the college's system of education came naturally to anyone. The scheduling, the way the day was ordered, the programming of classes and tasks, the way theoretical study was linked to practical work all made sense. He felt that the words that best distinguished the AFCM were “knowledge, humanitarianism and social commitment”.

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