OHSU School of Medicine Colleges provide support, guidance

July 26, 2013
advising2Navigating the path from first year of medical school to ultimately landing a preferred residency slot is full of many ups and downs. Students frequently report that they would like guidance. Among their concerns are: anxiety regarding which career field best suits them, and having limited methods to receive advice about career choice and specialty selection.  

“Medical students need career advice early and often,” said Nicole Deiorio, M.D., an associate professor in the department of emergency medicine, and director of the Colleges program. “More than ever, they are feeling pressure to choose a career path by the end of their first year. As a result, their performance in the first years of school has become more important in terms of their competitiveness for residency as the Match itself becomes increasingly competitive due to a number of factors, including limited slots.”*

In an effort to provide layers of support and advice during this complex time, the OHSU School of Medicine Undergraduate Medical Education (UME) program launched an advising curriculum in the Fall of 2011.

The program consists of seven Colleges, each representing a different practice setting, where faculty mentors share their knowledge and past experiences with students throughout their medical education. The system is designed to assist medical students in developing the knowledge and skills to make good specialty choices.

“We worried students were falling through the cracks, and not getting the experience they desired in specific fields of interest,” said Dr. Deiorio. “So we created an environment where students could explore the opportunities available to them based on their own vision of their ultimate practice setting.”

At most institutions, medical students are randomly assigned to a mentor; however, at OHSU students are identified for their unique interests in medicine and organized into groups of like-minded learners, with the curricula tailored to them.

“Before matriculation, incoming students are sent information on each of the seven Colleges and asked to select three they feel would be a good fit for them,” said Dr. Deiorio. “This way, upon arrival to OHSU, they are already assigned to a College and are able to meet their faculty mentor during orientation week. We hope this puts them in a setting where they feel the support and safety net during their first week on campus.”

The advising Colleges are overseen by one to two College masters—all of whom are clinical faculty with experience in student education and advising. In addition to helping students with their coursework and ultimately choosing a specialty, the program addresses some of its non-academic curricula, such as financial planning and wellness.

Throughout the year, College organizers host various events aimed at broadening a student’s knowledge of a particular specialty. This includes formal lectures and casual dinner conversations where students and faculty mentors engage in topics such as rewards and stresses of certain careers, interviewing tips and wellness curricula.

Through this program the Colleges also participate in skills labs, interprofessional events, service projects, and the annual College Cup, a friendly non-medical competition.

“If a student does not find his or her first assigned College to be a good fit, there is opportunity once a year to change into another College,” said Carolyn Zook, MS, coordinator for the Colleges.

Thus far, the program has been a success. “We had some great engagement in this first pilot year by both students and faculty,” said Dawn Dillman, M.D., an associate professor in the department of anesthesiology & perioperative medicine, master of the Acute Care College, and director of the curricula for the Colleges. “Moving forward, our goal is to grow this into a program where students feel an identity within their College that filters through their academic and non-academic path through medical school.”

Starting this fall, student placement in PCM small groups will be based on College assignments. This will permit the groups to have discussions and case-based learning individualized to the clinical settings they are considering entering. Going forward further, the future vision for expansion of the Colleges system within the curriculum reform involves an even larger role in advising, mentoring, and coaching students toward success.

Faculty who are interested in participating at any level can email Nicole Deiorio, M.D., director of the Colleges program.

Pictured above: Dr. Deiorio with a student

The Seven Colleges

Goals of the OHSU Colleges system

  1. To individualize the medical school experience by matching students with faculty who have similar interests and relevant past experiences
  2. To create a framework for more intimate longitudinal peer advising
  3. To offer students the opportunity to confirm their initial practice/medical interest and to help find mentors and resources for those interests
  4. To offer information on topics related to type of medical career desired through small group sessions and electives
  5. To provide a structure for curricula including wellness, financial resources and debt management, summer opportunities, and service learning which is tailored to individual students’ interests

* According to the AAMC, in 2012, 38,377 applicants applied for 26,772 residency positions—the most applicants ever.