After an hour-long appointment at a community health center, the patient’s extensive medical history was finally complete. “It looked like an essay,” says Andrew Cudmore, who was charged with obtaining the woman’s history. “The complexity of her situation was eye-opening.”
In his second year of osteopathic medical school, Cudmore is already gaining valuable clinical experience. He attends the A.T. Still University-School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona in Mesa (ATSU-SOMA), where students spend their first year on campus and their second, third and fourth years at one of 12 community health centers across the country.
The newest partnership site, Near North Health Services Corporation in Chicago, began accepting students last summer. ATSU-SOMA students at the new site say interacting with real patients reinforces their academic instruction and helps them hone the skills they’ll need later in their medical training.
At Near North Health Services Corporation in Chicago, Cudmore and Seethal Motamarri, OMS II, are part of a group of 10 second-year students who divide their time between distance learning and helping care for patients alongside preceptors. They agree that getting clinical experience so early in their medical education has been extremely beneficial.
“If you spend your first two years studying textbooks, you almost forget why you came to medical school, because you don’t have that contact with patients,” says Motomarri. In addition to solidifying clinical knowledge from class, she says, working with patients boosts students’ motivation and keeps their spirits up.
For Motamarri, seeing physicians in action has been an especially valuable aspect of the community health center experience, yielding insights she’s not sure she would have gotten in a hospital setting during her clinical rotations. “Our preceptors have patients who drive for two hours to see them, which says a lot about the kind of care they provide,” she says. “Working with them has really shown me what kind of physician I want to be.”
Learning from preceptors without the pressures third- and fourth-year students on rotations face is another benefit, Cudmore notes. “When you go into rotations, you’re exposed to everything, but you’re also being examined very closely,” he says. “In our program, we’re able to talk with preceptors with much less pressure.”
Projects that give back
Another hallmark of ATSU-SOMA’s curriculum is the community-oriented primary care project students complete in their second year. After learning where they will be stationed for the last three years of medical school, students form small groups and begin investigating the needs of the patient population at their assigned community health center.
The primary care project is rooted in ATSU-SOMA’s mission of serving the underserved, says Jeffrey Morgan, DO, the school’s dean.
“Through these projects, our students are giving back to the communities they’re serving in a meaningful way, and they’re also serving the academic community by sharing the information they’ve gained through their research,” he explains.
Motamarri and Cudmore’s Chicago cohort opted to focus their project on stress reduction, offering patients a mindfulness meditation class. “We had patients who left in tears because they hadn’t had time to reflect or take care of themselves for so long,” Cudmore says. “It’s one thing to hear about patient care in class or read about it in a textbook, but to actually get to work with people and influence their health has been incredibly beneficial.”