The Colleges learning communities

2015 College Cup

First and second-year students come together in the annual College Cup for a bit of good-natured competition. Seen here: medical terminology pictionary. 

The School of Medicine helps M.D. students find their future physician selves in a new advising and mentorship program

September 28, 2015

“I describe it like this: I’m Dr. McGonagall from Hogwarts. My goal is to guide and shape medical students outside of the formal educational setting,” said David Jones, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine, OHSU School of Medicine and Faculty Lead in The Colleges learning communities.

Dr. Jones is talking about how The Colleges learning communities augment the OHSU School of Medicine’s new curriculum, YOUR M.D. Learning communities first gained traction in high schools and undergraduate institutions in the 1990s. More recently, the model has been adapted to graduate education, including medical education. OHSU is on the frontlines of a national effort to enhance advising and guidance to medical students with this student-centered model.

The benefit, according to Nicole Deiorio, M.D., assistant dean for student affairs, will be future physicians who are equipped for the challenges and opportunities of the rapidly evolving health care environment: “We are educating change agents. Our goal is that students will leave The Colleges with leadership experience, heightened community awareness, tools for self-management and early experience in whatever specialty they’ll go on to pursue.”  

Collaborating for skill development and student wellness 

The Colleges program has two complementary components: seven colleges representing specific practice settings and a personal academic mentoring system, called coaching. 

The first component, the colleges, is a unique aspect of the School of Medicine’s approach to the learning community because each college gives students early exposure to different practice types. While many schools have learning communities, OHSU’s is the only one to differentiate the groups in this way. This structure is in line with YOUR M.D.’s philosophy of individualizing the medical curriculum. Students choose a college upon matriculation and have the option to move to another college annually. The seven colleges are:

  • Acute Care 
  • Global Health and Urban Underserved 
  • Hospital-Based Diagnostics and Therapeutics 
  • Metropolitan Primary Care 
  • Rural 
  • Surgical Specialties 
  • Urban Medical Subspecialties 

Students may attend activities in any college to explore multiple career paths, but they also select one as home base for weekly student affairs programming and enrichment activities. Facilitated by Faculty Leads, students delve into topics ranging from financial wellness to study skills and work-life balance. Through expert panels, field trips, and skills workshops, The Colleges curriculum augments what is covered in other educational settings, introducing students to the societal and cultural aspects of health and disease and providing certain types of hands-on skills training. In the Acute Care College, for example, students learned the basics of intubation, splinting, IVs, EKGs and suturing.  

“Many students come into medical school with varied interests; maybe they want to work with children, but are also fascinated by infectious disease. The Colleges give students the ability to explore and gain exposure to multiple specialties within a structure that provides guidance and support,” said Nicole Deiorio, M.D., assistant dean for student affairs.

Second-year student Blair Edmiston, a member of the Urban Medical Subspecialties College, says he has the freedom to explore diverse interests related to both rural health and global health. Through The Colleges, he has volunteered providing meals to the homeless, learned about VO2 max systems in an exercise clinic and discussed the use of art therapy in treating dementia while at the Portland Art Museum. 

Developing life-long learners

The second component of The Colleges, portfolio coaching, turns traditional advising on its head. While in a traditional one-on-one advising program students might seek out answers and advice, in The Colleges program, coaches exist to help students develop their own self-assessment and life-long learning skills. In conjunction with YOUR M.D. the goal is to produce graduates skilled at self-assessment and able to continually advance their own expertise, allowing them to lead health care into a new era of continuous improvement. 

Coach Laurel R. Berge, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine, said, “Every one of the coaches is a problem solver; we are passionate about education and helping students succeed. We might see a solution to a student’s issue, but that isn’t our job. Our job is filling out their tool boxes so they can solve problems for themselves, in medical school and beyond.” 

Together, coaches and students dig deep to address individual strengths and weaknesses, areas of clinical and research interest and professionalism. Edmiston said, “In medical school you’re constantly assessed and it can be difficult as a student to integrate all the feedback. However, my coach knows me so well and has been in my shoes, so he has the experience and context to help me put all the pieces together for myself.”

Students are also encouraged to learn from their peers during group coaching sessions. “We talk about aspects of medicine that aren't addressed in class: Is it okay for physicians to cry? What does it mean to be resilient? What is imposter syndrome?” said Katherine Holste, a second-year student. 

Connecting to future mentors

In coordination with YOUR M.D., The Colleges provide students with early and longitudinal experiences with physicians. “It makes me a better educator when I can work with a student from day one. Because when I see students downstream – in clinical experiences or residency – there’s already a relationship. I know how to push them or where they might need help,” said Dr. David Jones.  

As a medical student at Northwestern University, Katherine Holste’s coach Janice Jou, M.D., MHS, assistant professor of medicine, participated in a learning community. On the other side of the experience, she is invigorated by supporting future physicians in the same way. 

“I remember the first person to invest in me and the profound influence that belief had on my evolution as a physician. I want to work with the student who may be a diamond in the rough and help them find themselves,” she said. “I want to nurture the qualities that I think make the best physician – compassion, integrity – and help that student achieve full potential. Sometimes it’s a simple as hearing, ‘You can do this.’”


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