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Reflections on the completion of the first year of class at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

    Cynda Johnson, dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

When I started as dean three-and-a-half years ago, I envisioned the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine as a new kind of medical school where patients were at the forefront of every aspect of the school. It is wonderful to see the results put forth by many – from the construction workers who built the school brick-by-brick, to the leadership, the faculty, and the staff who had the vision, the drive, and the commitment to excellence to execute a well-laid plan. Our charter class of students, with their own vision and entrepreneurial spirit, partnered with us to bring VTC to reality as an educational institution. They are well along on their journey to becoming physician thought leaders. I celebrate all of these trailblazers, for the first time is almost always the most difficult. Indeed, the journey of a thousand miles does truly begin with the first step.

I also reflect on this wonderful community which has shown its incredible support for our mission. A day does not go by without correspondence from well wishers and those who are eager to participate in this amazing venture and adventure! It is difficult to imagine a more engaged community. Truly, we are fortunate. This, however, did not come about purely by chance. We have embraced our community from the beginning. I have given nearly 100 presentations to community groups; we have formed a community advisory board; community members participate as standardized patients, admissions interviewers and in our service learning projects; and we have invited the community to our building for tours and special events. Over 300 people attended our inaugural art show last month, the launch of our Creativity in Health Education Program. Community and high school art was displayed as the first of rotating shows planned for the future.

We have a beautiful building which we designed to conform to the specifications of our curriculum. The students were able to matriculate immediately into this wonderful facility on their first day of class, August 2, 2010. We recruited Dr. Michael Friedlander, a world-class neuroscientist, as executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI), co-located with VTCSOM. With VTCRI up and running, we celebrated our grand opening together on May 7, 2011, attracting three high-profile presenters for our speakers’ forum. Evidencing the inextricable bond between the medical school and research institute, I recently appointed Dr. Friedlander to the medical school leadership team as senior dean for research.

The school is on track for full accreditation. We are pushing the boundaries of medical education with the latest learning modalities: small-group, problem-based learning, early clinical exposure, interprofessionalism experiences throughout the curriculum, and a rigorous research curriculum, preparing students to practice modern medicine. With a brand new school and curriculum, every single day we were delivering a piece of the curriculum for the first time and at the end of each of the four blocks, we tested the students with newly minted test questions. When the charter class enters their second year on July 11, we will have another never-before-presented curriculum to deliver. Here is an excerpt of where we are:

  • The charter class completed a year-long Interprofessional Leadership Course with physician assistant and nursing students from Jefferson College of Health Sciences. As part of the course, students completed 10 service learning projects in the community benefiting various local organizations. Many of our students have continued participation in their selected project beyond the requirements of the class. The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine is the first medical school in the country to integrate interprofessional learning across the four-year curriculum.
  • In small groups of seven students, 33 patient cases were analyzed with the guidance of 19 facilitators. Students used these cases to learn and to teach each other the basic sciences. Weekly cases culminate on Friday with case wrap-up, which is an opportunity for an actual patient and family members, the physician, and the students to come together for an in-depth discussion from the patient and physician perspectives. The case wrap-ups have made a powerful impression early in the students’ medical school experiences. To these students, no case will ever be just a “paper” case.
  • All 42 students participated in our inaugural White Coat Ceremony. The charter class, along with all physician faculty members in attendance, took the Hippocratic Oath, pledging to practice medicine ethically and with their patients’ best interests in mind. Our keynote speaker, Bert Spetzler, M.D., presented from the perspective of both doctor and patient. He not only inspired our students, but also the physicians, faculty, staff, and family members in the audience. The ceremony was a highlight for me personally in my 30+ year career in medical education.
  • Forty-six local physicians participated as preceptors for the Longitudinal Ambulatory Care Experience (LACE). Charter class students participated in patient care with their clinical preceptors one afternoon a month to interact with patients and observe the operations of an outpatient clinical setting. The charter class will follow the same preceptors for the next academic year, allowing for true role-model relationships to develop and thrive.
  • Forty-two research projects have been selected, one for each member of the charter class. These projects encompass a wide variety of focus areas and fields, ranging from genotyping the rotavirus to studying the effects of Carilion Clinic’s changes in concussion protocol on management. The research projects will be carried out over the next three years, culminating with a publishable-quality paper and presentation prior to graduation.
  • The school has recruited over 25 standardized patients (patient actors) and has held 64 clinical skills sessions. These sessions are fundamental to our curriculum and they allow students to practice interviewing and physical exam skills before they work with patients. Students and standardized patients alike very much enjoy these hands-on experiences.
  • The duly elected student government is functioning well, interfacing positively with medical school administration. A variety of clubs and medical specialty interest groups are being formed.
  • The charter class has completed four exam weeks for a total of 28 final exams.
  • A total of 189 faculty members participated in teaching the charter class this year.

As the charter class has started its second year of studies, we are welcoming the class of 2015. The second class begins its studies on Aug. 1. The school received over 2,750 applications for the class of 2015, a thousand more than for the charter class. An additional interview weekend was added to accommodate the increase in highly competitive applications. This is an indication that we have made inroads in terms of our reputation and our desirability among the country’s brightest aspiring physicians. I am very confident that the students who come to campus in August will also be exceptional individuals who will carry the torch, alongside their fellow classmates, faculty, and staff to build a medical school for the 21st century, dedicated to developing physician thought leaders through inquiry, research, and discovery.

If you would like to be part of the successes going on at the school, you can show your support by making a donation.

I am so proud of our accomplishments and I am more energized than ever to continue on this journey. 

Yours truly,

Cynda Ann Johnson, M.D., M.B.A.
President and Founding Dean
Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

Day in the Life of Dean Cynda Ann Johnson

Our photographers captured Dean Johnson in some of the memorable moments of the first year of education at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Check out the photo gallery.

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