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Families Adopt Medical Students for in-Home Education

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  • Families Adopt Medical Students for in-Home Education

    Families Adopt Medical Students for in-Home Education
    Library: MED
    Description: The U-M Medical School is drafting hundreds of experts from a surprising source to teach students next fall -- local families. As part of a new curriculum, medical students learn more about personal and family dynamics and their effects on health and illness.

    December 13, 2002
    Contact: Mary Beth Reilly,, or Carrie Hagen,,(734) 764-2220

    For immediate release

    Families adopt medical students for in-home education

    Contact with families to come after first week of medical training as part of major curriculum changes

    ANN ARBOR, MI -- The U-M Medical School is drafting hundreds of experts from a surprising source to teach students next fall -- families. Under the auspices of a newly revised curriculum, medical educators are inviting Ann Arbor area families to play an active role in helping first- and second-year medical students learn more about personal and family dynamics and their effects on health and illness.

    Starting in fall 2003, pairs of first-year medical students will be matched to volunteer families for this innovative two-year program, called the "Family Centered Experience." The families will open their homes and their lives to the students, whose academic assignments will include relationship building, communications skills, and medical and genetic history-taking.

    Participating families will serve as an important resource for students to understand how health changes, chronic conditions, and serious illnesses affect patients and those close to them. Students will explore important connections between health care and issues such as culture, health beliefs, age, gender, and support systems. They will learn about rapport between patients and their physicians.

    U-M medical school faculty conceived the program as one of several modules that will help students understand and achieve a competent and comfortable balance among the scientific knowledge, clinical acumen and communication skills that are so vital to high-quality health care. First- and second-year medical students -- who will not provide health services in the program -- can forge personal relationships with families who may be coping with their own illness and other health-related adversities.

    "As we improve the curriculum to stay out in front of the latest scientific and medical developments, this family-centered experience is a structured way to re-affirm for our medical students the relevance of genetics and environment, and the values of compassion and respect," says Joseph Fantone, M.D., associate dean for medical education and professor, Pathology Department.

    Students and families will get together several times a month. As trust is established, the students will observe and ask questions to compile medical and genetic histories of family members. Among the learning outcomes for students will be the understanding that many medical conditions -- for example, diabetes -- aren't cured in a hospital or physician's office. Rather, the patient and family learn to cope and adapt around that condition, largely through family dynamics and activities of daily living.

    During the two-year assignment, students will be encouraged to accompany family members to medical appointments and to shadow patients through the complex maze of diagnostics and therapies (and how these services are paid for) that make up the current American health care delivery system.

    Meeting patients and families in the first weeks of medical school isn't the only change U-M medical students will experience next fall. The curriculum is undergoing other major improvements throughout the entire four-year program.

    "U-M medical school faculty have for years articulated goals for medical student education that include proficiencies such as independent and critical thinking, reflective judgement, peer and self-assessment skills, and a strong commitment to excellence and lifelong learning," says Fantone.

    In planning the 2003 curriculum improvements, faculty agreed to design a robust and multi-faceted program that not only embraces these goals, but also provides structured learning opportunities to help students achieve high-level skills and competencies.

    For example, over the last several years faculty have increased their awareness about how effective learning occurs and the best educational models to support effective learning. As a result, the new curriculum continues to emphasize scientific principles, but now medical students will learn these principles through practical application -- patient cases -- rather than by rote in the classroom.

    "These learning modules will be designed to challenge students to synthesize their knowledge and skills and to reflect on what they are learning and how to apply this knowledge to real life, like in making decisions in difficult situations, or delivering difficult news to patients and their families," says Casey White, assistant dean for Medical Education.

    Other changes the faculty are integrating into the new curriculum include expectations that students will take more responsibility for their own learning, and peer teaching in order to foster lifelong learning, which is so vital to physicians working in a discipline where knowledge grows continuously and exponentially.

    "The medical school's new changes in learning contexts, teaching methods, and expectations are designed to maintain the strengths of the U-M's curriculum for the M.D. degree, and to enhance learning with the ultimate goal of graduating not only well trained, but compassionate physician leaders," says Fantone.