New education programs aim to better prepare students
In its usual tradition of education innovation, the Penn State College of Medicine has recently introduced a number of new or reconfigured programs. From dual-degree programs to an exciting new Physician Assistant Program, the College of Medicine is realigning its curriculum to better prepare future physicians, nurses, and researchers for the changing landscape of the biomedical research enterprise, and the health care arena where new discoveries are applied.
The new interdisciplinary graduate program, Biomedical Sciences (BMS), is a departure from the traditional graduate programs. “Up to a year ago, our graduate programs aligned with their basic science departments. We determined that this structure wasn’t meeting how we needed to train our students for the future,” says Michael F. Verderame, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate studies, professor of medicine, and director, Medical Student Research Project. “Students can build their own curriculum to address the work that they want to do.” The first class of students just completed their second semester in May.
Many of the new programs build on the tremendous strengths that Penn State has to offer to its students. One of those areas is its Department of Public Health Sciences, where faculty has been working for several years in developing the new Master of Public Health program. The first class included thirteen students. “The fact that we’re training the future generation to participate in the improvement of health in our nation is an important contribution,” says Verderame. Also in this department is a new Ph.D. program in biostatistics. That program targets a smaller number of students, who are expected to start with the next academic year.
Observing how health care is intersecting with other non-medical disciplines, the College of Medicine is also putting into place some new dual-degree programs. The new MD/PhD in Engineering Science and Mechanics is being developed in response to the exploding possibilities in the bio-engineering field. Graduate faculty members worked very closely with Judith Todd, chair of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State, to build a program that would attract the right students and have them graduate in eight years. “An MD/PhD program in a biological field is an unbelievable amount of work, but the fact that they are both biomedical programs provides some benefits. That’s not true for engineering sciences. There’s a whole new discipline that, as a student, you will have to learn,” Verderame says. The program is expected to be in place within a year and should serve as a model for MD/PhD programs at Penn State in other non-biomedical disciplines.
The MD/MBA dual-degree program is being implemented at the College of Medicine’s Regional Medical Campus at University Park. The program will allow students to do their clinical training and continue the business program at University Park. “When a physician has the added expertise of an MBA, they can take on a leadership role in a medical organization and be better equipped to deal with the financial complexities of our health care system,” says E. Eugene Marsh, M.D., senior associate dean for the University Park Regional Campus, Penn State College of Medicine, and associate director, Penn State Hershey Medical Group—State College.
Starting in July, the Regional Medical Campus will receive its first cohort of medical students, who have chosen to do their third and fourth years of training at the campus. There will be eight required clinical rotations, followed by additional training opportunities, all designed to prepare them for residency training after graduation. “Our faculty and our community in general are excited about having the students here on a regular basis,” Marsh says. “It will be an excellent educational opportunity in a smaller community setting, with students learning together.” The goal is to expand the cohort over the next few years and eventually have twenty-four students spend their third and fourth years at the regional campus.
These programs were all developed as part of the college’s overall vision for innovation as was the new Physician Assistant (PA) Program. The genesis of the program came from the realization that there’s an incredible need for advanced practice clinicians–not only at the Medical Center–but also in the surrounding areas and throughout the country. This is largely due to the shortage of primary care providers and the anticipation that potentially more than 32 million Americans will gain access to health care with the Affordable Care Act. “I don’t think we’re prepared as a nation to appropriately take care of those patients,” explains Christine H. Bruce, M.H.S.A., P.A.-C., director of the Physician Assistant Program. “We’re thinking outside the box and trying to find a way to make sure that each individual’s health care needs are met, not just by physicians, but by other licensed personnel like physician assistants and nurse practitioners.”
By developing this program, the College of Medicine plans to help fill multiple open PA positions at the Medical Center. The program’s anticipated start date is May 2014. Unlike other graduate-level programs at Penn State Hershey, the PA program will be an academic program within the College of Medicine since it will be designed to follow the medical school model much more closely. “We’re now looking at the health care delivery system as a team of individuals and that is reflected in our inter-professional education activity where we train nursing and medical students together in a way that encourages collaboration. We hope to do the same thing with our PA program,” says Richard J. Simons, M.D., ’81, outgoing vice dean for educational affairs.
An example of this collaboration is facilitated through the College’s 10,000-square-foot Clinical Simulation Center. “The simulation laboratory is a major advancement in medical education that leads to a safer health care environment. It brings teams of care providers together to help them learn in a simulated environment,” says Simons. The students in the PA program will benefit from these educational and technical innovations. “I am humbled to have the resources that a tertiary care medical center like Penn State Hershey can offer,” says Bruce. “With those resources we can recruit a diverse mix of students and train them to be remarkable health care providers who will return to their communities and serve them in a strong primary care role.”
– By Dawn Costantini