Entering medical school class inaugurates new curriculum

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Entering medical school class inaugurates new curriculum

In Seattle and across a five-state region, new approaches prepare physicians of the future
Kimberly Blakeley

Click the arrows at the side of the photos above to run a slide show.

The nearly 250 first-year medical students starting this month will experience the first major change to the UW School of Medicine’s curriculum in the past 15 years. The current curriculum change process began in 2010. Envisioning and building the new curriculum has involved almost 500 faculty, staff, students, alumni and others across Washington, Wyoming, Alaska,  Montana and Idaho  Since the 1970’s, training new physicians in the region has been a multi-state partnership called WWAMI.  
The new, integrated curriculum features active learning, shorter class hours, and increased emphasis on the lifelong learning skills physicians need to keep up-to-date throughout their careers.   Basic science training is shortened to 18 months, offered at each WWAMI regional site, and paired with a robust clinical training program.   From the start of medical school, each week students will receive a day of alternating clinical training and primary-care experiences in physicians’ offices.
The Foundation phase of the curriculum is the basis on which students will build their knowledge, skills and training as they learn to  become physicians.  Prior to this phase, students attend a multi-week Orientation and Immersion at their WWAMI university in their home state. Orientation prepares students to navigate medical school and Immersion trains them in the basic clinical skills for working with patients. Brief presentations and active learning exercises orient the students to myriad topics they will cover in greater detail throughout the course of their studies. These include performing basic life support, deliberating ethics, communicating with patients, and conducting a physical exam.
Two highly anticipated ceremonies occur during Orientation/Immersion: On the first day, students are formally presented with the stethoscopes they will use throughout their medical school training and beyond.  These are gifts from the UW Medicine Alumni Association. On the last day, students receive and don their white coats to signify their entry into medical school and the profession of medicine.
During the Immersion, students enjoyed the natural surroundings of their WWAMI location through group outings that fostered teamwork or connected them to other aspects of medicine:

  • In Seattle, 100 incoming medical students canoed and rowed boats in Lake Washington or hiked nearby nature trails.
  •  40 incoming Spokane  medical students went to Twin Lakes in northwern Idaho for  outdoor programs in communicating, critical thinking and team work.
  • The 20  new Wyoming medical students learned about wilderness medicine through the National Outdoor Leadership School.
  • In Alaska, 20 new medical students went on a retreat to learn basic wilderness medicine skills, and participate in a high performance cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR,  course on the latest basic life support skills.
  • The 30 incoming medical students in Montana were introduced to public health during a visit to Crow, Blackfeet and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
  • In Idaho, the 30 entering medical students spent time outside a hospital operating room to learn how to scrub in and put on protective gear for surgery or other procedures.  Later, they took a  river-rafting trip.

“Turning traditional medical education on its head, incoming first-year medical students begin their schooling with intense clinical training in Immersion,” said William G. Sayres, Jr., assistant dean for the Foundations curriculum. “After Immersion students are assigned clinical preceptors with whom they anchor the basic science of the Foundations curriculum.” Sayers is a UW assistant professor of family medicine who practices in Spokane.