New medical school enrolls its first class

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Classes begin Aug. 2 for the charter class of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in Roanoke.

Selection of the 42 students was intensive and time-consuming, says Dr. Cynda Ann Johnson, dean of the new medical school.  The school had more than 1,650 applicants and a high percentage of them met the school’s rigorous criteria for academic credentials, professional or research experience and leadership potential. “We were looking for an interesting combination of qualities that we thought would indicate success in our curriculum,” Johnson says.

That curriculum, she says, is designed to prepare the next generation of physicians for a medical environment that is constantly changing, in terms of research findings and technology. “There is so much information in medicine now that it is impractical, basically, to just teach facts to students,” she says. “So our focus is to teach them adult learning principles and leadership skills, so they can be lifelong learners and physician-thought leaders in a future that we can’t even describe.”

The curriculum has four foundational but integrated elements: basic sciences, clinical sciences, research and inter-professionalism. In addition, the curriculum is problem-based, meaning that students work on patient cases in groups of seven under the supervision of a faculty facilitator. Students also are required to take a yearlong leadership course and conduct a research project in years two through four of their schooling.

Johnson says that 228 students were interviewed for the 42 slots using a technique developed at McMaster University in Canada. That involves a series of eight-minute interviews with school officials. Johnson compares the process to speed dating. “This was really intended to get at those other interpersonal skills and determine whether they had the ability to succeed in our environment,” she explains.

About one third of the incoming students are from Virginia, one third are over the age of 30 and two thirds are male. The students have undergraduate degrees from variety of colleges and universities, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Georgetown, Wake Forest, Michigan, Virginia, Virginia Tech, the College of William & Mary and Washington & Lee.

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