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Project Medical Education Turns Policy-Makers Into Med Students

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

 Congressman John Sarbanes brought his daughter Stephanie with him to share the med school experience.

Members of Congress, the Maryland General Assembly and other state officials got a taste of life as a medical student in a special program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine on August 13 and 22, 2007. It was Project Medical Education (PME), an initiative by the Association of American Medical Colleges to educate policymakers about the process of medical education, the benefits it provides, its complex funding mechanisms and the essential role of government in providing financial support.


Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes was one of the participants. "The University of Maryland as a system and institution, particularly with respect to its medical school, is renowned in very positive and impressive ways," Sarbanes said. "I wanted to come to understand more of what's happening here. To see and hear about the plans for the future are really important." Sarbanes added that he was especially interested in Dr. Robert Gallo's Institute of Human Virology and the new Institute for Genome Sciences, headed by Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett.


The day kicked off with a white coat ceremony, where the participants donned the traditional garb of medicine and assumed the role of a medical student. Then it was off to class, which started – as the first year of medical school traditionally does – in the anatomy lab. Larry Anderson, PhD, a professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, explained the importance of the 10-week anatomy course for first year students. Not only do the dissections done in class help students learn about the structures in the body, but "this is their very first patient," Anderson said. "They learn from the very first day to respect every patient, no matter what they look like or where they came from."


PME participants toured medical school labs, classrooms and patient care areas, seeing first hand the costly technology required to educate medical students and treat patients in the 21st century. Of particular interest to many of the "students" was the presentation by Dr. Adrian Park, a professor in the Department of Surgery, who showed off the medical school's simulation center, where aspiring surgeons use virtual reality to practice their skills.


Dr. Steven Czinn, professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, and Dr. Hugh Mighty, associate professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, led tours of the University of Maryland Medical Center's (UMMC) pediatric and OB wards.


Legislators also learned about the busy life of faculty physicians, who must simultaneously treat patients, educate students, and conduct research. As the chair of the Department of  Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, Dr. Scott Strome also explained how he manages to juggle administrative duties with all these other responsibilities.


There were also discussions on health disparities, the impending shortage of doctors and the importance of state funding for new research facilities to keep the School of Medicine competitive. The day ended with an opportunity to speak with real-life medical students, not only about their futures but about the future of medicine, as well.


The legislators and other guests were enthusiastic about their medical school experience. "It makes sense for policy makers to have a little bit of a deeper understanding of what, in fact, medical education is all about," said Sarbanes. "This idea of taking you through the years of medical school in a morning is a terrific way to give that extra level of understanding."

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 Dr. Steven Czinn led a tour of the pediatric wards at UMMC, where many third- and fourth-year students do rotations.

 Dr. Adrian Park showed off the surgical simulation suite, where student surgeons practice the craft via virtual reality.

 A military simulation lab teaches doctors how to practice medicine in a war zone.

 Participants gather for a class photo before starting their education.

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