di Giovanni Mottini - Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma

There is a message we like to convey when, at the beginning of the academic year, we present to the freshmen of our University. And it is the one contained in the logo and lemma of our institution: Science for man.

In front of their gazes, between curiosity and suspense, we say that, in reality, man does not exist…Theoretical man does not exist…Men exist. Unique, concrete, one after the other, placed in the reality of their existence, in the places where they are, in the horizon that they are given to contemplate.

The university, our university, and that science that produces and makes its specific weight, was born to be for and with each of them. A tall, vertical ambition; and a concrete, horizontal commitment. In the midst of people, near and far; to never lose grip on everyday life, and never lose the identity to be transmitted with deeds to those who will come after us.

In fact, this is how that affirmation of the Charter of Purposes of our University acquires the weight and volume of what is authentic, whichchiara of wanting to promote the sense of solidarity and fraternity, which manifests itself in works, knowing how to place one's own professional prestige at the service of the common good (art. 4).

This promotion of solidarity has taken on for us, in these twenty years, the precise connotations of a formative style which proposes to educate to solidarity through university work itself; both research and teaching.

The verb educare is understood here in its Latin meaning of e-ducere: that is to say "to bring out" the heritage of ideality and creativity that is present in its native state in young people entering university.

This heritage must be put to good use, especially in the very first university years. That is, before the student comes inghiottito in the professionalizing tunnel of the following years; transforming the ideals of service to others, inherent in the very vocation of the doctor, into vague aspirations that will hardly find space and time in professional life.  

The crucial theme that is at stake, and which gives depth and perspective to university work, is the relationship that exists between skills (i.e. knowledge), passions and compassion.

The work of e-ducere, as a component of a university training style, consists precisely in cultivating a passion for man - which arises from the disposition to feel compassion for others - and a passion for knowledge - which arises from the curiosity of facing the complexity and variety of reality and the horizons of knowledge - to transform them into professional skills oriented towards authentic service.

It is interesting to note that, if on the one hand the passion for man and for knowledge lead to the motivated acquisition of skills, the opposite is not at all true. The realities demonstrate how pure skills, self-referential and detached from an authentic attention to man, do not in themselves give birth to good passions, but are more easily enslaved to the logic of self-affirmation and the commercialization of knowledge for economic purposes.

The task of the university is therefore to cultivate the good passions of the students.

The reason for this seems to derive from the fact that passion has in itself a profound relational dimension, which competence alone does not possess, nor does it require. Passion always demands confrontation with the other, and therefore becomes the source and condition of acting in solidarity.

Where the lands of men are

Saint Exupery would still call them the Terres des Hommes today…

These are the places towards which the university has a duty to look.

The university's commitment to aiding developing countries; that is, where man has the right to become more of a man, is undoubtedly in the very roots of the university identity: growth and transmission of knowledge at the service of man.

Therefore, it is coherent to address this commitment where the benefits of this knowledge are most needed. Coherent yes, but not frequent in practice.

In fact, the university institution runs the risk in many cases, under the pressure of logics and interests that should be foreign to it, of no longer being able to interpret the real needs of those among whom it lives; when instead it has an extraordinary potential for service to the common good. Hence the commitment of the Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome to present itself as a university which, in making the formation of its students in solidarity an indispensable aspect of its identity, also shapes its form, becomes a tree; traces a furrow that remains over time, enriches and makes the land of men fruitful.

The didactic tool that has been the backbone of this training model on the Bio-Medico Campus since the early years is the Humanitarian Aid Course: an optional didactic activity that takes place throughout the academic year, consisting of meetings (on average 6 per year) with actors from the world of humanitarian aid and protagonists of development cooperation initiatives, both Italian and foreign. A formula therefore far from the model of the frontal lesson, and more oriented towards acquiring knowledge from the direct experience of witnesses of international solidarity. An open window on the real world of human underdevelopment to get to know it from the inside.

Sometimes it was the testimonial of extraordinary and engaging enterprises: like Marguerite Barankitse, founder of a social and health initiative that takes care of the victims of ethnic massacres in Burundi and Rwanda, Leon Tshilolo: researcher and medical director of a hospital in Kinshasa , but also evidence of welcoming initiatives for immigrants in Italy.

There are now thousands of students on the Campus Bio-Medico who have taken part in these meetings.

This activity was accompanied, almost by reflex, with a more operational dimension: a training on the job represented by direct experiences of students in Developing Countries (DCs) with CBM partners in Africa and Latin America. The formulas used are those of medical workamps with mixed teams; that is, made up of doctors and students of the CBM and counterparts from local universities.

 The activity carried out was planned in epidemiological research protocols; conceived as a component of health campaigns for the local population, with medical visits, diagnostic tests and free supply of medicines for current pathologies.

These activities have been designed to make it possible for students of the very first years of the course to participate as well: unprepared for a clinical-assistance activity, but easily instructed on the methods of biomedical research; often made up of relatively simple and repetitive gestures but which require the methodological rigor and commitment that a good dose of youthful enthusiasm can guarantee. The research experience in difficult and precarious conditions (far from the comfort and aseptic nature of European laboratories), the friendly and educational contact with local colleagues, the confrontation with a reality of poverty and disease make these workcamps a training opportunity integral: human and professional, of great and profound impact.

A suitable formula for students in the final years of the course was instead an internship in African hospitals in agreement with the CBM. Here there is an opportunity for direct learning and the possibility of increasing one's skills: practices in the operating room, outpatient clinic, diagnostic and semiotic procedures with an intensity and proximity that are almost unthinkable in Italian structures. But it is above all the integration of these technical-scientific components with the experience of human relationships and contact with the social reality of these countries that constitutes the true added value of similar experiences.

There are about two hundred students who have had workcamp experience or individual internships in developing countries alongside local health professionals. Graduation and specialization theses have taken shape from these experiences; often suggestive by topic and context, but above all priceless experiences for their authors.

As an added value of these initiatives comes a team of young researchers for developing countries, with passion and experience, which is being established at the Bio-Medico Campus as a stable asset of the University and a legacy to be passed on to the generations of new students .

The local counterpart of these initiatives are the partners who make up the network of African institutions with which the university has established collaborative relationships; born as a long-term goal of the project to create a North-South research community that the CBM has been running for over 5 years thanks also to the financial support of Farmindustria.

Thanks to the Afia Together project, which in lingua Swahili means Health Together, we were able to reach some of the best health institutions in many African countries and create a North-South, but also South-South network, to jointly face the health challenges for the African continent.

This includes university and non-university institutions from Congo, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritania, Peru and Madagascar.

The goal of this community is to provide African partners with the skills in biomedical research methodology to conduct together study protocols on the most urgent and widespread health problems of African populations, or to develop care and therapeutic methods adapted to the context of developing countries. The premise for this intervention strategy is the belief that the great pathologies afflicting humanity with the highest number of victims: AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are all present mainly in the southern hemisphere, and cannot be adequately fought only with weapons developed in aseptic western research laboratories. The direct participation of local professional figures is essential: epidemiologists, researchers, clinicians, up to the community animators, who guarantee the compliance of the population both on the research side and on the interventional and preventive side.

Another, not marginal, aspect is scientific production in terms of publications with impact factors that are accumulating as a result of university work carried out in workcamps and internships; demonstrating that university solidarity is an indispensable dimension of mature professionalism, and not a mere optional diversion, however commendable.

Behind these initiatives there is a research ethic that acts as a compass towards a north that is already the medicine of the future: that is to say Global Health. Interdependence, which is an essential dimension of the globalization process, also affects the health of men wherever they are, and therefore the way of thinking about medicine.

This intent becomes for theUniversità Campus Bio-Medico di Roma a training project. Always conceive and practice biomedical research that, in addition to being well done, is also socially oriented. That is, scientific skills that first question what humanity's real and most urgent needs are, before choosing where to use one's energies. Therefore, forming the consciences of health professionals with a strong social conception of the doctor's actions.