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Medical School partnering program used as a teaching tool (12-9-99)

David Marks, a third-year medical student at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, started his first day of clinical clerkships the same way all medical students do—in unfamiliar territory.

After two years in the classroom learning basic sciences, Marks had to learn the layout at University Hospital, one of the Health Science Center’s primary teaching hospitals. He also had to learn such things as communicating with a patient when there is a language barrier.

In an effort to make the transition from classroom to clinicals a smoother process, the Health Science Center added a partnering program to its revised curriculum. Third-year Medical School students rotating through six clinical experiences act as mentors for first-year students, who shadow them at least one half day every six weeks. The program is mandatory for first-year students and an elective for third-year "coaches."

"We felt this type of early, ongoing clinical experience would help the first-year students see the relevance of the basic science materials they learn in the classroom," said Donald Currie, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and a member of the Medical School Curriculum Committee. "They learn the practice of medicine."

Terry Holster, a first-year student at the Medical School, can attest to that. In one afternoon, Holster observed a minor surgical procedure and a bypass operation, and the removal of staples from the chest of an elderly heart surgery patient.

"You see the responsibilities you have and the different types of patients you will encounter," Holster said. "I also like the feeling I get from the patients—that I am actually taking care of them. It makes me feel that all of the work I am putting into this is appreciated."

The first-year students gain experience at taking patient histories, writing progress notes and interacting with patients, among other things. Third-year students such as Marks benefit from the review of information as they explain procedures and diagnoses to their protégés.

"In some cases, the third-year students even discover they might be interested in teaching," Dr. Currie said.

He is hoping the new program will be a model for other medical schools. He and Cynthia Alford, M.D., assistant professor in the Health Science Center’s Department of Family Practice, presented initial program findings and student feedback from in-house surveys and focus groups to colleagues at the annual meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C., in late October.

Contact: Will Sansom or Heather Feldman