This Futuristic Medical School Has Robots And A Virtual Clinic To Train Students

Futuristic Medical Schools

With medicine becoming a more collaborative, interprofessional discipline, it’s no surprise that the medical schools of the future are following suit.

The University of North Dakota (UND) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) opened the doors to its new building this summer. Believing they would receive a better return of investment by building a new structure to accommodate their growing class sizes instead of renovating its current 60 year old hospital, UND wanted a building that would match their patient centered learning curriculum.

Incorporating the opinions of over 1000 people, from stakeholders to alumni, UND SMHS found the most important things about this building that people desired were a health focused building, from the food it served to the amenities it offered, with plenty of natural light flooding the space with a warm welcoming atmosphere.

This new building offers transparency in every corner – literally. A majority of the classrooms have floor to ceiling glass walls, and the walls of the building have a glass exterior.  We wanted everything to be visible to the public and to all of us,” said Gwen Halaas, MD, MBA, senior associate dean for education at UND SMHS.

Since 2006, UND-SMHS has required an interprofessional education course. This new building allows them to take their interprofessional education to the next level.

With an emphasis on collaboration and enhanced technology, the new building offers eight learning communities to which all students in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences are randomly assigned for the length of their program. These learning communities encourage students from all disciplines to learn from and interact with each other, sharing and exchanging knowledge from their respective fields. 

Medical schools have had learning communities for a long time, but our interprofessional learning communities are designed to change the culture to support IPE and collaboration…And I think by having students learn and socialize together throughout their entire programs, they will be much more apt to…collaborate with and respect each other and communicate easily,” said Halaas.

There is also a virtual hospital and clinic in the new building. It has a full operating room with a full operating lighting system, six hospital rooms, and 14 exam rooms. “It really looks like a clinic and a hospital,” says Halaas.

UND SMHS is also piloting the use of robots to teach medical students telemedicine skills. Students are being trained to learn how to collaborate with robots in different capacities, such as the robot being the consulting cardiologist, or using the robot to connect with the patient’s family physician.

We’re a rural community, and we want to encourage more telemedicine,” Halaas said. The students have to learn to work with the robot as a member of the team…but also to be on the other side of the robot in terms of communicating at a distance with the patient or family or team.

Given the trend of medicine towards interprofessional care and greater use of technology, it seems like UND is leading the way for the future of medical schools across the country.

Kari Cowell
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