The Colleges at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine: An Experience Worth Remembering

Editor’s Note: The following post is the first in a series on the Colleges at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, featured in the September issue. Check back Thursday and Friday this week for the other posts in this series.

By: Scott Rodgers, MD, associate dean for medical student affairs, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Anyone who has worked in medical student affairs knows that advising medical students is an immensely satisfying task, but she/he also knows that it can be very challenging at times. While many students seem to pass through medical school fairly unscathed, a significant number always struggle. I believe that medical schools must take these struggles seriously and find new and better ways to assist students in need.

Our Colleges at Vanderbilt, described in a recent Academic Medicine article, were designed to provide students with academic, personal, and career support through dedicated faculty advisors, who are now called college mentors. These mentors extend the advising reach of the Office of Medical Student Affairs. While our school expects much from our students in the areas of academics, leadership, service, and research, it is clear to them (I think!) that our level of support matches or even exceeds the demands we place on them. I have found that students are capable of achieving a great deal as long as they know they are supported in their work. Having it any other way would be a demoralizing experience. The Colleges have also evolved to become learning communities in which students spend quality time each week with their mentors and College peers focusing on a range of topics in the medical humanities.

Walking down the hall outside our classrooms at Vanderbilt, I sometimes overhear our student tour guides as they lead applicants through the building. Invariably, the tour guides will start talking about how much they love their school because of its focus on wellness and because of the fun they have in the Colleges. Beyond mere advising, the Colleges are giving our students many positive memories, defining and enriching their experience.

Not every new idea works, even the ones that seem so promising in the beginning.  But as the Colleges enter their eighth year, I think we got this one right, and I am so grateful to have been a part of it.

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  1. Kemi Tomobi
    August 7, 2013 at 7:34 PM

    Thank you for this post.

    There is a mentoring quote that says, “You can get farther than you think you can because someone else thought you could” or something to that effect.  Medical students are chosen from a very talented bunch; you better believe that medical students have a lot to contribute to the medical community and can do even greater if they feel they are supported in their ideas and efforts.

    I also admire your reference to the medical humanities.  More and more medical schools see the value of incorporating humanities into medical training.  “Humanism in Medicine” themes serve to show that medicine is more than just science, but a profession of caregiving where the quality of care depends not only on how well you know the steps of the Kreb’s cycle or the landmarks of the indirect or direct inguinal hernia, but also how well one relates to patients and what makes the patient “human.”  (For example, if a sickle cell patient comes into the emergency room in pain crisis, one should not rely on the lab results to determine if the patient needs urgent pain management, one needs to better relate to the patient when taking a history).

    The discussion of tour guides and the admissions process could not be more timely, as first year medical students are getting oriented to new classmates, faculty, staff, and medical curriculum.   Also, a new medical school admissions cycle is about to begin. The tour guides are crucial to the interview process, and if the guides include enthusiastic medical students, then it shows how much a school is willing to have student involvement in the medical school admissions process, and it also means that if the students are enthusiastic and speak well for the school, then that may positively influence a prospective medical school applicant’s choice for that school.

    Again, thank you for sharing your experience.


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