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Small group learning opportunities are at the heart of Penn State College of Medicine University Park Curriculum

Lauren Pomerantz learned a lot about the importance of teamwork from her days on a college varsity crew team.

She feels that same sense of pulling together as part of the group of students in the Penn State College of Medicine University Park Curriculum. While the majority of College of Medicine students take classes and hold clerkships in Hershey, Pomerantz is one of 12 first-year medical students who study at the Penn State University Park campus.

“I’m used to being on a team, and that’s why I love this experience,” said Pomerantz, a first-year medical student from Long Island, N.Y. “We’ve become a close-knit group who support each other. I feel so strongly ― and I know the other students do, too ― that this program has many advantages.”

Pomerantz, who studied at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where she also experienced a strong sense of comradery, said learning is about creating a link between peers and instructors. That is the case in the University Park Curriculum, she added.

This year in particular, she said, students were immersed in learning about the pandemic, thanks to Dr. Mark Stephens, a family physician at Penn State Health Medical Group ― Park Avenue in State College who is an instructor of the University Park Curriculum.

During his 27-year career in the U.S. Navy, Stephens accumulated a long list of friendships and professional relationships and draws on his contacts for the benefit of his students.

“There’s a great deal more involved in being a doctor than molecules and medicine,” he said. “It’s understanding the human condition, and this past year COVID-19 really allowed us to explore that.”

Stephens was able to set up a call with a key leader from the U.S. Public Health Service engaged in coordinating the COVID-19 response and several others with expertise from Penn State and the commonwealth who discussed the importance of team-building and consistent messaging when building a sound medical response to the pandemic. He also put together a virtual meeting with four Penn State varsity coaches to discuss how to build a championship team.

Pomerantz said her experience at University Park has been extremely rewarding. Along with studying the pandemic, she has been able to work on research, follow the progress of patients throughout the semester and has an opportunity to do clinical work. She also has access to mentors at the College of Medicine in Hershey.

It’s all part of what Stephens believes is the well-rounded experience the University Park Curriculum provides to medical students.

“Medical school is a rehearsal for all that’s involved with becoming a doctor, and I want to make sure our students have a lot of time to practice,” he said. “That way they’re fully prepared for their future as physicians.”

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