A University of South Florida medical school program highlighting leadership, empathy and business wherewithal will nearly triple its number of students this fall.
In August, 48 first-year Morsani College of Medicine students will join the 18 original participants in SELECT. The program targets students with strong self-awareness and self-management skills, as well as those showing an enhanced empathy toward patients and community.
A warning for new students: The five extra hours a week of discussions and self-reflection about communication, healthcare systems and management are intense, said first-year SELECT veteran Chris Pothering.
But these opportunities to meet with healthcare executives and other leaders make the commitment worth it, he said.
"It's almost like you forget you're in medical school when you sit down and have these interactions with people who are professionals in communication or in leadership," said Pothering, 28.
SELECT, or Scholarly Excellence, Leadership Experiences and Collaborative Training, has been brewing within the college for years. Positive feedback from the inaugural group of students and faculty mentors led to its sudden growth, said Alicia Monroe, the college's vice dean for educational affairs.
Eventually, the college will admit 56 SELECT students a year, in addition to a core medical class of 120 students. It highlights the importance in training new doctors to care for patients beyond the physical symptoms, Monroe said.
"We always have to be mindful of tasks, but also how it affects others," she said.
SELECT students often don't fall within the traditional medical admissions profile. Some of the students have other professional experience. Others have spent time in the military.
Monroe said the program's mission to create well-rounded doctors isn't meant to be exclusionary. In fact, core medical students will have a new elective class on leadership offered, in part because of the success of SELECT sessions.
This summer, SELECT students are immersed in an active medical practice, exploring everything from office management to developing an approach for assessing how clinic patients exercise. The students do pay an additional program fee, though scholarship money is available, Monroe said.
USF professor and family medicine physician Richard Roetzheim is mentoring Pothering and another SELECT student at his practice. These medical students are different because they start careers thinking about change, he said.
"In medical school, doctors learn a lot about taking care of individual patients. When I was in medical school they taught me how to check blood pressure, told me these are the drugs you use," Roetzheim said.
"No one ever told me how to change a practice. How do you fundamentally change the things that happen in your practice? I had no clue."
The immersion also allows SELECT students to focus on collaboration and communication with co-workers and patients, said Kanchi Batra, a Tampa native helping a local practice revise its management structure.
"They really want us to hone into who we are, and make us even stronger at our strengths and bump up our weaknesses so they are strengths," she said.
It also will come in handy in year three, when the SELECT students move from Tampa to Allentown, Pa., for a two-year stint at the Lehigh Valley Health Hospital Network, Pothering said.
"You can take the lessons we are learning and cross them over into any setting," he said.
USF's rigorous core medical curriculum also highlights these skills, said Jonathan Pavlinec, a third-year medical student and president of the class of 2014. SELECT is a great experience, but small group discussions and other core medical school requirements train students to communicate with patients and one another.
"No matter what area you're in, patient-centered care is going to be at the center of your program," Pavlinec said.
Batra, who spent a year working as a medical researcher before heading to medical school, said SELECT is more than navel gazing. She's profoundly affected by assignments to analyze health care systems and propose ways to improve her own community.
"It makes me appreciate the world around me," Batra said. "And it makes me want to do something about it."