Fulbright Award supports Boonshoft School of Medicine student’s research on autism

Wright State Boonshoft School of Medicine student T.J. Klein (left) has been selected for a Fulbright U.S. Student Award for to study autism in Oman.

Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine student T.J. Klein has been selected for a Fulbright U.S. Student Award for 2013-2014 to study autism in Oman.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program awards about 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries. 

“This is a very prestigious honor for T.J. and the Boonshoft School of Medicine,” said Dean Parmelee, M.D., associate dean for academic affairs. “We are proud of T.J. and look forward to his contribution to the autism study and what he will bring back about living and studying in a very unique and traditional Arabic culture.”

Klein will begin the nine-month study in September. “Autism, like many other mental health and developmental disorders, is relatively unstudied and under-diagnosed in non-Western parts of the world,” said Klein, who completed his second year of medical school. “This project includes public health outreach and education, as well as biomedical studies dealing with the genetic and possible environmental causes of this disorder.”

While Klein did not know much about Oman, an Arab state on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, he learned more during the summer of 2012 as he and Wright State medical students Kelsey Black, Mai El Gasim and Jeffrey Zabinski went on a three-week medical study-abroad trip, which was part of the school’s Global Health Initiative and International Health Program affiliation agreement between Wright State and Sultan Qaboos University.

“Our experience was simply amazing. The people we met — from medical students at Sultan Qaboos University to imams at the Grand Mosque to the staff at our hotel — were among the most kind, genuine and generous people I have ever met,” said Klein, a Cleveland native. “Everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome and to show us their country and culture. I knew I had to return.”

When Klein returned to medical school in the fall of 2012, he kept in touch with one of the doctors with whom they worked in the Department of Hematology at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital (SQUH). Klein mentioned his desire to return to Oman, and the doctor put him in touch with his cousin, Dr. Yahya Al Farsi, the director of the autism research project. Dr. Al Farsi is one of three faculty from SQUH who has spent time at Wright State learning about its medical education program through the schools’ affiliation agreement.

Although Klein has not been personally affected by autism, he gained an interest in it when he took a course on autism during his post-baccalaureate program at the University of Pennsylvania. “My medical specialty interests are internal medicine, pediatrics, neurology and psychiatry,” said Klein, who earned his undergraduate degree at Princeton University. “This project really is a perfect fit as it dovetails all of these fields. It will be quite an exciting and hopefully productive endeavor.”

Klein will be at Sultan Qaboos University, which is located 30 minutes outside of Muscat, the capital city of Oman. To prepare for his trip to Oman, Klein met with a WSU student from Saudi Arabia, Ahmad Sabty. Sabty taught Klein Arabic, and Klein taught Sabty French. However, Klein would like to be more fluent in Arabic. “During my stay in Oman, I plan to enroll in intensive Arabic classes so that I can interact with patients with autism and immerse myself in the community.”

Klein is looking forward to building lasting relationships with new friends and colleagues from Oman and all over the world.

“The Fulbright program was created to encourage cross-cultural exchange and international good will. I am looking forward to learning more about the Arab culture and customs,” said Klein, who would like to be an academic physician at a large research university, where he can work closely with patients in the clinic and conduct basic science research. “I realize that there can be some distance between the general American public and the Arab Muslim world, and I hope to use this opportunity to help bridge that distance.”

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