Collaborating in Education
Medical students leap into early clinical care
Second-year medical student Elliot Walters performs an examination on Hollis Berry of Milwaukee under the supervision of James Sebastian, MD, at the Zablocki VA Medical Center. The VA is one of 12 sites in the early clinical experience program, part of the Medical College’s enhanced medical curriculum.
With Medical College of Wisconsin graduates accounting for one-third of all practicing physicians in Wisconsin, enhancing medical education at the College provides value for patients and communities throughout the state.
Medical education is changing to be more patient-centered, and the Medical College is ensuring its medical students interact with patients from day one. Medical College educational leaders are transforming the curriculum to fully integrate concepts learned in both the classroom and the clinic.
Twenty-eight students, currently in their second year, are participating in a pilot version of this curriculum, which includes an early clinical experience. In a traditional medical school program, students have little exposure to patients in their first two years, but in the new curriculum, students have increased patient contact beginning early in their first year with ongoing clinical experiences throughout all four years.
The Zablocki VA Medical Center has been a leading partner in early clinical experience, which James Sebastian, MD, helped launch in the VA’s internal medicine clinics. The clinical partnership between the VA and the Medical College spans more than six decades, and by collaborating in education, the organizations are preparing the next generation of physicians to excel in meeting patient care needs. The VA served as a model for other early clinical experience sites by supporting student involvement in patient care and protecting faculty time for teaching.
Dr. Sebastian is one of 19 faculty teachers who oversee students in weekly, half-day sessions across 12 different collaborative clinic sites in the Milwaukee area. Early clinical experience provides context for students’ study of the human body and how it works, enabling them to better connect those concepts learned in the classroom and labs with their observations and experiences in patient care.
For example, if students are studying the gastrointestinal system, early clinical experience instructors may look for opportunities for the students to perform an abdominal exam during their clinic shift. In addition to this closely supervised, hands-on clinic time, the students meet weekly to discuss clinical cases and relate them back to basic science principles.
In devising the enhanced curriculum, the Medical College is aligning with the best practices of medical schools nationally. Educators believe that increasing early clinical experiences while fully integrating the basic sciences will result in greater proficiency, compassion and confidence.
Dr. Sebastian thinks it is positive for the patients too. Early clinical experience students are assigned a panel of patients, with whom they develop relationships through recurring visits and follow-up responsibilities. The students obtain medical histories, perform physical exams, explain treatment regimens and advocate for their patients’ health care.
Dr. Sebastian is Professor of General Internal Medicine.