Programs Offering Immersive Experiences To Medical Students

Immersion Programs Medical Schools

Some medical schools in the country have partnered with the American Medical Association to provide their students with hands-on experience in the practice of medicine and caring for some of the nation’s must vulnerable and medically underserved communities.

The Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium is working to transform and update physician training, bridging the gap between what is taught in medical school and the realities of practical medicine. Thought leaders in the field of medical education have come together and designed new programs to improve leadership and competency in patient care. It is hoped that these innovative programs will help students gain insights they can use for the rest of their careers.

Practicing clinical skills in underserved communities

The Lower Rio Grande Valley is a medically underserved community in Texas. Students from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, which opened its doors in the summer of 2016, will be assigned a family practice clinic in one of the colonias (unregulated settlements) along the U.S.-Mexico border. Most residents of these unincorporated rural areas are under 18 and impoverished.

The program will give students a chance to practice clinical skills and learn to provide integrated care in a team environment. “The program will help students understand their patients’ needs and environment better,” says Francisco Fernandez, MD, founder of the new medical school. By giving them a first-hand experience of the good they can do, the hope is to instill altruistic values in the students that will stay with them for the rest of their professional lives.

Students of Arizona’s A. T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine participate in a pioneering immersive program where they are deployed to 12 rural and urban community healthcare centers beginning in the second year of medical school. The program is meant to combine primary care and public health.

Benefits of community immersion

By living in the community, students benefit by understanding the needs of not only each individual patient, but the underserved community as a whole. In addition, the program helps students become confident in clinical history taking and delving a little deeper into a patient’s story. Students also learn to integrate social issues into the practice of medicine, such as asking the right questions to determine whether a patient is likely to be compliant with medications.

The program aims to train students in practicing comprehensive medicine by connecting patients to the resources they need, for example, a weekly farmer’s market or a free exercise program at the local recreation center. The strategy is to force students to think of innovative solutions to improve the health of these underserved and often impoverished communities. Early in their career, budding doctors learn to evaluate their patients’ needs and develop strategies to bring about change. The hope is that the program will encourage more graduating physicians to seek out careers in community health and primary care.

Medical students, doctors, health coaches

In New York, the CUNY School of Medicine offers the Sophie Davis Program in Biomedical Education, a seven-year BS/MD program that trains students to provide primary care to underserved communities. In partnership with several federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), the school embeds students in community health centers beginning in the third year of medical school.

Students develop and improve their patient interviewing skills by shadowing physician preceptors. They learn to work in a team environment by rotating and working with nurses, physician assistants, social workers, and dieticians. In their role as health coaches, students learn to identify behavioral changes such as exercise and diet that could improve the health of their patients, who they follow longitudinally. In addition, students also perform value-added duties such as developing patient education materials and reconciling medications.

The program hopes to give medical students a deeper understanding of how FQHCs benefit underserved areas and to recognize the value of teamwork in healthcare. “We want to inspire them to choose careers in primary care in underserved areas,” says Rosa Lee, MD, assistant dean in the Department of Medical Education. This immersive program helps students gain the knowledge and develop the skills they will need to become good doctors in the future.

Ariel Jacoby
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