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Medical school leaders convene in Hershey to discuss innovation

The future of medical education was the focus of discussion at a conference in Hershey this week. In conjunction with the American Medical Association, Penn State College of Medicine convened the 32 medical school members of the AMA’s newly expanded Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium.


The AMA launched its Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative in 2013 to bridge the gaps that exist between how medical students are trained and how health care is delivered. The AMA has since awarded $12.5 million in grants to 32 of the nation’s leading medical schools to develop innovative curricula that can ultimately be implemented in medical schools across the country.

Penn State College of Medicine launched the Systems Navigation Curriculum in August 2014 with the help of a five-year $1 million AMA grant. The curriculum embeds first-year medical students working as patient navigators in 36 clinical sites throughout central Pennsylvania.

Among the patient navigators this year is Catherine McDermott, who says she has learned as much or more about patients in their homes as she has in the clinic setting. Many of those cases lead to solutions for the patients, such as an elderly patient who was able to remain connected with his social circle, despite no longer being able to drive.

“I’m really glad I can be there for these patients,” McDermott said. “This program will help me to keep these barriers in the front of my mind as a physician.”

That’s the point of the curriculum, which was created to ensure students learn not only the basic and clinical sciences, but also health systems science. This is important given that the majority of medical students still receive their training in hospital settings even though most patients are now being cared for throughout the health system in out-patient and community support settings to treat chronic conditions.

“By serving as patient navigators, our medical students see healthcare and its challenges not only from the perspective of doctors but also through the patients’ eyes,” said Dr. Terry Wolpaw, vice dean for educational affairs at Penn State College of Medicine. She notes medical education has long been focused rather narrowly on seeing patients, making a diagnosis and prescribing a treatment.

“The curriculum grew out of a need to understand how to care for patients in the context of a changing health care system,” said Dr. Jed Gonzalo, associate dean for health systems education at Penn State College of Medicine.

Dr. Susan E. Skochelak, AMA group vice president for medical education, says the work being done in Hershey – and at the other 31 consortium schools – will improve the way health care is delivered to patients nationwide.

“The change in the curriculum is deep and meaningful. It involves putting all the missing items that are not in medical education front and center,” she said.

The next step, Skochelak says, is to spread the word about the innovative models from the 32 consortium schools.

“The idea is to share and disseminate ideas from each school in the consortium and put them to use successfully at medical schools across the country.”

To that end, officials at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education/CUNY have announced plans to start their own versions of the Systems Navigation Curriculum developed at Penn State College of Medicine.

“We’re all part of a system that has to improve,” Skochelak said. “We’re working on making it better.”

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