The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine will start its second class this week. Out of more the 2700 applicants, around 250 were invited for interviews and a small fraction of those were offered a spot in the class. On August 1st, forty-two students will begin a journey of at least seven years to complete their training.
That set me to thinking about those in the charter class; what was their experience like? I asked Dr. Mark Greenawald, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, to arrange an interview with a group of them. Even though I went through medical school a long time ago, the memories of that first year are vivid: The worst year of my entire life. I wondered if I would find the same to be true for these students.
What a difference! In the commodious confines of the medical school library I met with four quite astounding students. It was immediately apparent that they were much more mature than the students I dealt with for so many years as a clinical professor of medicine at UVA. First of all, they were older, ranging in age from 28 to 31. They all had previous successful careers after their graduation from college, but after a number of years felt unfulfilled, not challenged, and believing there should be more to a profession than what they were experiencing. Let me introduce them.
Matt Joy, a graduate of the University of Southern California in Performance Music. He worked in Los Angeles in the music industry playing in bands and doing solo guitar performance. He is married and they are expecting a baby boy in the near future. His wife works.
Don Vile grew up in the Philadelphia area and is the first in his family to attend college. A biomedical engineering graduate from Harvard, he entered the work force as a software programmer after the company for whom he was going to work imploded when the dot com bubble burst. In the Washington area, he worked with people he enjoyed. He is married and they have a little girl.
Elizabeth Glazier graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in advertising. She worked in that field in the metropolitan Washington area for a number of years. She speaks with an ease that testifies to her communication skills. Her husband continues to live in Maryland and she commutes on weekends. They have no children.
Jarred Hicks graduated from Lee University in Tennessee with a degree in psychology and worked for Wachovia and then an internet marketing company before going to UNC at Chapel Hill to prepare for medical school. He is unmarried and says that if you are single guy in Roanoke, med school is a good place to be; there is little time for social life.
Each has a research project. Matt is studying predictors of success in bariatric (weight reduction) surgery particularly as related to knee replacement. Don is working with rotavirus, a causative agent in gastrointestinal problems. Elizabeth is collaborating with VT professors in genomics of melanoma. Jarred is doing research in hospital disaster evacuation. Each will publish a paper prior to graduation.
They all had a positive view of their first year at VTC. All had been back to college to get the prerequisite courses completed since none had planned on medicine as a profession. Recognizing this was a new school, they anticipated there would be a learning curve for the school as well as the students. They were pleased with the responsiveness of the faculty to their requests and comments. They found the course of study challenging, but not overwhelming. Already in their second year they are experiencing new and more difficult material.
Since they are participating in a problem based learning program they have developed interpersonal communication skills that are valuable. Working in groups of seven students with a mentor for eight weeks on a particular clinical problem they are responsible for teaching each other under the watchful eye of faculty. It took several cycles as they learned how to depend on one another; any sense of competitiveness was replaced with cooperation.
There is much more to say about their experience, but I left with the following impressions: If these are typical students, the future of medicine is in good hands. I hope that I will be able to meet with them again at the end of each year and follow their progress. As I walked to my car, I could not help but contrast how much happier they seemed than my classmates of long ago.