A Japanese medical student honing her skills in make-believe scenarios in Springfield, Ill., said her thoughts have never been far from the real-life needs playing out in her homeland. Michiko Tsukamoto is among 11 students participating in an exchange program with the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
A Japanese medical student honing her skills in make-believe scenarios in Springfield, Ill., said her thoughts have never been far from the real-life needs playing out in her homeland.
Michiko Tsukamoto is among 11 students participating in an exchange program with the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Tsukamoto arrived in the United States just days after an earthquake and tsunami struck her home country.
When she gets home, Tsukamoto wants to help the victims of the disaster.
"All we can do is gather money and send money. If we go to the area, we won't have the power to help because we aren't doctors yet. If we were doctors, we could do many things to help," Tsukamoto said.
Tsukamoto, 27, is a third-year medical student at Aichi Medical University in Nagoya, Japan.
SIU and the Japanese university have had an exchange program since 2004 that exposes the students to the different cultures.
Of the 11, seven are third- and fourth-year medical students. They will spend three weeks in Springfield. The four fifth-year students will spend eight weeks there.
On March 22, Tsukamoto and the other students were doing head-to-toe medical evaluations on actors playing the role of patients. It's the type of exam doctors give new patients, and the exercise gave the students an opportunity to interact with a patient.
The students said they planned to take what they learned and share the information with their colleagues in Japan.
Since arriving in Springfield, the students say they've been in touch with family and friends in Japan.
Nagoya is nearly 300 miles from the areas hardest-hit by the March 11 earthquakes and tsunami and suffered little damage. However, Tsukamoto said a student in their class, who is not on the trip to Springfield, is from the earthquake area.
"They are fine, I think, but I don't know about their family," Tsukamoto said. "We departed from Japan just two days after the earthquake, so we didn't have enough information from the disaster area. We worried a lot."
Shimpei Asai also has a friend who was affected by the disaster. His friend is OK, but the friend's boyfriend's house was destroyed.
"She watched the news and saw the house," Asai said.
The students said it's disconcerting to be spending time in the United States while Japan deals with the disaster.
"We are so safe here," said Yu Yamamoto, 26. "I heard from my mother that everyone looks sad. The mood is really sad now in Japan."
Miku Nakagawa, 23, said that people in Springfield have come up to her and said how sorry they are that people are suffering in Japan.
"I appreciated their kindness," Nakagawa said.
John Reynolds can be reached at 217-788-1524.