Students participate in the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine’s student-created first-year orientation program.
Getting a jumpstart

Easing the transition to med school: PCOM student creates program for first-years

New program offers a window into the life of a first-year medical student before classes actually begin.

This article was originally published by Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM). It has been edited slightly for style.

Kathleen Ackert, OMS II, of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), knows firsthand the challenges incoming medical students face. To make the transition easier, particularly for those without significant or recent exposure to anatomical sciences courses, Ackert has created a two-week medical school acclimation program that offers a window into the life of a first-year medical student before classes actually begin.

The course, called TISSUE, “Teaching Introductory Study Skills Utilizing Experience,” brings PCOM first-years to campus early to acclimate them to the climate, pace and expectations of medical school and introduce them to the idea of working with cadavers.

“If you don’t have any experience in that type of setting, it can be rough,” said Ackert, who participated in a similar program at another medical school prior to attending PCOM. “We wanted to ease incoming students into that—that was the big thing, getting them more comfortable. I think having that experience helped them to be better prepared for their ‘real’ first day in the lab.”

A primary focus of Ackert’s TISSUE program is helping first-year medical students gain a familiarity with anatomical concepts and applications. But TISSUE also provides students with guidance on the basic essentials of transitioning into medical school, from buying groceries to paying for parking, locating lockers and developing the most effective study habits.

“In the morning, we would give lectures, and talk about memory tips and mnemonics and what we thought was high yield,” Ackert said. Her fellow TISSUE facilitators Stephanie Michalik, OMS II, Kristin Oller, OMS II, Brandon Twombly, OMS II, and Mark Ujevich, OMS II, helped to lead those discussions. “We thought that would be helpful because it wasn’t a teacher in front of them, but a person in their shoes just a year ago—someone who can relate best to their experience.”

With the assistance of PCOM faculty Marian D’Angelo, PhD, and Michael McGuiness, PhD, TISSUE launched in July 2017.

“Whenever our students start, part of what comes with that is the anxiety and the adjustment of adapting to this level of education,” said Dr. McGuinness, who helped guide the students as they created the TISSUE curriculum. “I support any efforts to help with that transition process. I’ve heard students say they were glad and found it helpful.”

In addition to an online component for students who are not able to come to campus early, TISSUE offers a unique bonding opportunity for first-year students. Students who participated noted that they felt better prepared and more at ease when they returned to PCOM for orientation.

“One of the many positive benefits of TISSUE was the camaraderie that we developed with each other,” said Katherine (Kelly) Mulquin, OMS I. “The M2 leaders really encouraged us to bond and support one another. Having that support system in place before school started helped make the transition so much easier. By the time I came back for orientation, it felt like home.”

The TISSUE team plans to survey participants throughout the year to assess perceived levels of anxiety and compare them to anonymous surveys of students who did not go through the program. Drs. D’Angelo and McGuinness are planning to study whether the program has an effect on academic performance.

If a correlation is found between academic performance and participation in the program, Dr. D’Angelo says, “We can then start to think about how it can be expanded to later years of medical school.”

2 comments

    1. I don’t think this program represents ‘craziness’ at all, but a student’s attempt to ease the sometimes very difficult transition into medical school. Incoming students come from diverse backgrounds, some with extensive anatomy experience and experience living on their own, etc. and others, not so much. This program is at least a step in the right direction.

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