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November 14, 2013

Medical school program at Bassett drawing hundreds of applicants

By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Bassett Medical center has become a sought after destination for aspiring medical students from across the country, thanks to a recent partnership with Columbia University.

“We formed a partnership with Columbia to develop a special track within the existing Columbia Medical School,” said Henry Weil, Assistant Dean for Education at Bassett Healthcare for Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons

Weil said that Bassett received interest from a number of medical schools, but ultimately decided to partner with Columbia University in New York City. The Columbia-Bassett Program began admitting students in 2010, and will graduate its first class next year.

The program has proved to be quite attractive, drawing between 700-971 applicants a year for just 10 slots. Every year, students apply from all 50 states and from over 200 colleges.

“The number of applicants per space is as high as any medical school in the United States,” said Weil.

Weil said that Columbia has been sending medical students to Bassett to do rotations since 1931. Indeed, prior to the establishment of the Columbia-Bassett program, five medical schools were sending students to Bassett.

Weil and Dr. Walter Franck, now Senior Associate Dean for the Bassett Affiliation at Columbia, saw the opportunity, however, to establish a program that would be based in Bassett Medical Center.

One of the reasons why Weil and Franck decided to pursue this is the nature of the Bassett Healthcare Network. 

Weil said that the Bassett Healthcare Network is an integrated environment, where doctors with a variety of specialties, as well as other healthcare providers, work for the same organization. Weil said that integrated environments like Bassett help to facilitate the sharing of goals and information and, by extension, help improve patient care.

“The idea of training students in an environment such as that was very appealing to us,” said Weil.

Weil also noted the quality of Bassett’s doctors, and there ability to teach.

“We obviously....had a faculty at Bassett that is quite gifted at teaching,” said Weil.

The Columbia Bassett Program has two hallmarks:  the Systems, Leadership, Integration and Management, SLIM, program and a Longitudinal Integrated Curriculum.

Weil characterizes the SLIM program as the science and culture of performance improvement. He says that the curriculum teaches students to identify problems and inefficiencies in healthcare systems, and gives them the knowledge to correct them.

“They’re given tools other people might learn in business schools,” said Weil.

Students must also complete two SLIM related projects as part of their course of study. Some examples of these projects that Weil gave were making the operating room more efficient, making the hospital quieter at night and improving the smoking cessation program.

The Longitudinal Integrated Curriculum Bassett uses is another defining aspect of the program.

This program involves students, during their major clinical year, selecting patients to follow as they receive treatment. If a patient consents, a Bassett student will closely monitor every stage of a patient’s treatment, which usually involves them being in the same room as the patient.

“Most medical students see a patient once,” said Weil. “Our students are following....many individual patients for up to a year.”

Weil said that the program really helps the students get to know their patients as people. He also said that the patients respond well to having the medical students following them.

“They see the students as an asset to their card,” said Weil.

During orientation week, students in the Columbia Bassett Program spend their first day at a family-run business in Otsego County. Weil says that this is done to give the program’s student perspective on the impact that practicing medicine can have.

After orientation, Columbia Bassett students spend their first 18 months doing pre-clinical work at Columbia University, following the same curriculum as other Columbia students. They then move up to Cooperstown, where they spend their major clinical year. After their major clinical year, students may work elsewhere, but  remain based in Cooperstown.

Weil said that the rural nature of Cooperstown is appealing to the students.

“The students, for the most part, take a real pleasure in getting to know the community,” said Weil.

He also said that, although the program has only 10 people in it, it is well integrated into the wider Bassett Healthcare Network.

“These are really wonderful young people,” said Weil. “They tend to make the environment around them work.”

As for the students the program attracts, Weil said that there is a generation of people entering medical school who see that the U.S. healthcare system has serious problems. Weil said that the Columbia-Bassett Program offers a lot to such students, both from a patient care and health care systems perspective.

“Dr. Franck and I are hoping to find the students who are driven by a sense of purpose to make healthcare better and have the best possible impact on their patients,” said Weil.