August 17, 2007

Advisory colleges aim for school, life balance

Featured Image

Scott Rodgers, M.D., holds up a T-shirt bearing the name of one of the newly created advisory colleges aimed at helping better prepare students to become physicians or physician-scientists. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Advisory colleges aim for school, life balance

Erin Fulchiero looks for her bag in the Batson College rack. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Erin Fulchiero looks for her bag in the Batson College rack. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Lane Crawford, left, Michelle Shepard and Pimkwan Jaru examine their gifts. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Lane Crawford, left, Michelle Shepard and Pimkwan Jaru examine their gifts. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine and Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) are instituting an advisory colleges system this fall to better prepare students to become physicians or physician scientists.

Students will be placed into one of 10 colleges; four catering to medical students and six for MSTP students, who are enrolled in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program.

Two pillars supporting the advisory colleges are wellness programming and Careers in Medicine, said Scott Rodgers, M.D., assistant dean for Medical Students.

“There is a focus within the colleges not only on building a foundation for knowledge, but also a foundation for life,” he said.

“Students should not come to medical school and think that success is based entirely on making straight A's or all-honors grades. It is actually more about learning how to balance academic achievement with your own personal wellness.”

The M.D. advisory colleges will also include M.D./Ph.D. students and focus on the first two years of the medical curriculum. The dual-degree students will be advised in their separate colleges, said MSTP Director Terence Dermody, M.D.

Enrichment activities within these colleges won't necessarily be content-centered.

“They won't be learning about amino acid metabolism or gene therapy during these activities,” Dermody said. “Many of the discussions in the colleges will be focused on 'What is happening in your life? How is your family? Did you read this book?' Those types of conversations really need to take place because they make us who we are.”

Numerous studies have reported that medical students are at an increased risk for developing problems like depression and anxiety, Rodgers said, and traditional wellness programs tend to focus on what to do when a student is in trouble rather than promoting health.

“We wanted to create an environment that promotes health — a proactive wellness program,” he said.

A student committee chose to name its four M.D. colleges in honor of VUSM Dean, Steven Gabbe, M.D., and past deans John Chapman, M.D., Randolph Batson, M.D., and George Canby Robinson, M.D.

Two faculty members have been selected for each college to function as mentors through the students' first two years of medical school.

“We selected persons based on our belief that they will bring energy, enthusiasm, creativity, warmth and a spirit of caring to their work in the colleges,” Rodgers said.

Affiliated college advisors from wide-ranging specialties, as well as others who have an interest in student mentoring, will be available for students to speak with regarding specific career choices.

Rodgers said a training workshop will prepare advisory college directors for the new initiative.

“They need to know a little bit about the new curriculum and the life of the students. If they are too removed from that, obviously, they won’t be able to help,” he said.

Advisory college models in place at the University of California-San Francisco and Duke University, and the wellness program at the University of Washington, were studied in designing the Vanderbilt program.

Most MSTP students spend two years of medical school in the pre-clinical curriculum, matriculate into four years of graduate school to earn a Ph.D., and then return to medical school for the final two years.

“With the advising colleges, we will take advantage of the breadth of experience of our students and allow them an opportunity to engage each other more formally,” Dermody said.

“The MSTP is a long process and students at the beginning of training don't have a lot of opportunity to get to know students at the end of training. And those students have a tremendous amount of wisdom that they can share.”

MSTP students typically matriculate into the M.D. program around age 22-24 and finish with dual degrees at age 30-32.

“Our M.D./Ph.D. students already feel a little bit isolated in that they are not M.D. students and they are not Ph.D. students,” Dermody said.

“We have several programs in place to support these dual-degree students, but I didn't want them to feel singled out or excluded from advising functions or activities that would really benefit them. Integration of the MSTP students into the M.D. advising colleges should accomplish that goal.”

This year's advisory college leaders:

M.D. Colleges

Batson — Barron Patterson, M.D., Beth Ann Sastre, M.D.

Chapman — Oscar Guillamondegui, M.D., Heidi Schaefer, M.D.

Gabbe — Ban Allos, M.D., Amy Fleming, M.D.

Robinson — Beau Kelly, M.D., Paige Smith, M.D.

MSTP Colleges

College 1 — Scott Hiebert, Ph.D., Richard Peek, M.D.

College 2 — Bruce Carter, Ph.D., Alissa Weaver, M.D., Ph.D.

College 3 — Judy Aschner, M.D., Luc Van Kaer, Ph.D.

College 4 — Dan Roden, M.D., C.M., Pampee Young, M.D., Ph.D.

College 5 — Alfred George, M.D., Laura Lee, M.D., Ph.D.

College 6 — Maureen Gannon, Ph.D., James Goldenring, M.D., Ph.D.