Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Update

Our Changing Education Model with Terry Wolpaw, M.D.

Terry Wolpaw, M.D.

How can Penn State College of Medicine better align its teachings with the evolving healthcare system? We sat down with Dr. Terry Wolpaw, Vice Dean for Educational Affairs, to discuss three exciting educational shifts.

1) Systems Navigation Curriculum (SyNC)

This fall, first-year students will have the chance to dive directly into the healthcare setting without completing even one course in medicine. Don't worry though, students won't be administering care.  Instead, they will be working with various hospitals as "Patient Navigators"— liaisons that support and guide people as they try to weave through the health care system maze.

In the classroom, students will cover a variety of topics, broken down into four categories: Patient Navigation, Health Systems, Health Systems II, and Population and Public Health. "Getting the [Patient] Story/Communication," "The Basics of Insurance," and "Health Disparities and Access" are just a few examples of the required coursework (38 topics in total). Students will also work in small groups, and each group will collaborate with a health systems mentor from the community.

"SyNC provides students with the opportunity to link up with patients and see their challenges before they know much medicine," says Wolpaw. "On day one, we have so many smart, motivated, energetic learners. We thought, ‘What is it they can do to contribute meaningfully to healthcare?'"

SyNC developed out of a five-year grant from the American Medical Association focused on accelerating change in medical education.

2) Profession of Medicine

This year, students will start their first two weeks in medical school learning about professionalism. Concepts such as integrity, humility, and teamwork will be discussed—important skills needed to be successful physicians, says Wolpaw. When students move to their clinical rotations in year three, they will be required to take a follow-up course.

At the recent White Coat Ceremony, the Class of 2018 read their "Oath for Our Medical Journey," another first for the College of Medicine. Roughly 20 groups of seven to eight students worked to draft ideas, and representatives from each group met to finalize the oath. You can read the Oath here.

3) Peer Handoff Day

On Thursday, July 17, the College of Medicine welcomed first-year students with help from MSII students. Second-years presented a curriculum overview, introduced Problem-Based Learning, and led small breakout sessions. Wolpaw says the premise behind Peer Handoff Day was to better help students "understand our culture of learning. It's much more difficult for faculty [to do that]," she says.

As one would hope, Peer Handoff Day concluded with a barbeque.