Four days into her medical education, first-year student Susan Brinckerhoff found herself standing inside an operating room, answering a doctor’s questions as he performed thyroid surgery.
The experience – Brinckerhoff was shadowing anesthesia technician Shana Green – is just one element of Introduction to the Profession week, held August 13 through 17. The new set of programs introduces the incoming class to the practical aspects of Feinberg and to the themes of professionalism and professional identity they will encounter throughout their medical education and careers as physicians.
The weeklong overview is a component of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s new curriculum being rolled out this year. Among the innovative changes, students are brought into the clinical setting early, in this case during their first week, to offer new opportunities to apply basic science concepts, stimulate inquiry, and gain perspective for career development.
Throughout the week, students also focused on the role of competencies and the different teaching and learning environments at Feinberg, including interactive lectures, small group discussions, team-based learning, and the opportunity to interview patients and shadow health care professionals at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH).
The Class of 2016 began Introduction to the Profession week inside Hughes Auditorium listening to an inspiring message from Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president for medical affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean.
“You are about to embark on a new stage in your life as a student, a more personal and reflective period where you quickly become your own teacher,” Neilson said. “I hope you realize that you are not entering a trade or a guild and you are not an apprentice, rather you are joining a learned profession, and in this profession at Feinberg, you are our colleagues from day one.”
Students took part in interactive, hour-long lectures introducing topics like the history of medical education in America, the new Feinberg curriculum, medical ethics, literature and medicine, health care reform, and professionalism, interspersed with student and patient perspectives. Overall, more than 50 faculty, 150 patients and 150 health care professionals participated.
“The lectures have been really helpful and insightful into the many different things I can expect as a doctor,” said first-year student Jakita Baldwin, who comes to Feinberg from Hampton University in Virginia. “It’s an amazing opportunity to begin to learn what it’s like to think and act like a doctor.”
Led by Joshua Hauser, MD, assistant professor of medicine and at the Buehler Center on Aging, Health & Society, and Catherine Belling, PhD, assistant professor in medical humanities and bioethics, Introduction to the Profession week also provided incoming students with the chance to meet their faculty mentors, classmates, and medical school peers.
“We saw it as a chance for the students to begin to develop their own professional identities, to learn from each other as peers and to begin to meet faculty and staff in the hospitals who will be their teachers throughout their time here,” Hauser said.
On Monday, an afternoon activities fair organized by the various student organizations offered new students the chance to explore a multitude of experiences outside of the classroom.
“I had a chance to look into the extracurricular options that exist here and found one where students are paired with Alzheimer disease patients, a population I really want to work with,” said Baldwin, who has an interest in geriatrics. “This week has also been a verification of the mentoring that takes place at Feinberg. From the time when I arrived for my interviews and came back for Second Look, to now, the teachers and professors have showed that they really want the students to succeed and become great doctors.”
Wednesday through Friday featured extended afternoon sessions that included Focused Clinical Experiences (FCEs) and patient interviews.
With the help of dozens of volunteers at NMH, the FCEs matched students with nurses, social workers, pharmacists, patient transporters, anesthesia technicians, and other professionals to provide insight into the many components of a complete medical-care team. Beyond the day-to-day lessons of teamwork, communication, and care, some students experienced a birth, cardiac surgery, or administrative operations, among other aspects of care delivery.
“I shadowed a dietician and I really enjoyed it,” said Casey Richardson, a first-year student coming to Feinberg from Columbia University in New York. “I got to see a side of medicine that I hadn’t really been privy to. It’s always nice to learn how to interact with people and realize that there’s a bigger team that is integrated into the care of the patient.”
Introduction to the Profession week ended with the student-faculty dinner on Thursday, society dinners on Friday, and a breakaway retreat on Saturday. The one-day trip to the Irons Oaks Adventure Center incorporated leadership development, team building, and personal development activities.
The welcoming of students to campus culminates with Founders’ Day, August 24, which marks the official opening of the academic year. The ceremony concludes with the Class of 2016 being presented with their white coats by a group of second-year students, and their first recitation of the Declaration of Geneva, the oath made by students and physicians that embodies the humanitarian goals of medicine.