A Milestone for Genes to Society
Date: June 7, 2013
John Zampella remembers the first time he interviewed a patient as a Johns Hopkins medical student. “She was being treated for chronic myelogenous leukemia. It was really awkward when you’re just starting out because you don’t know what questions are important to ask. It takes practice to become comfortable,” he recalls.
With the School’s new Genes to Society curriculum, launched in 2009, Hopkins medical students now begin speaking with patients in the first week of medical school rather than waiting until their second year. That’s only one of many changes. There is now greater emphasis throughout the curriculum to consider socioeconomic, lifestyle, and genetic factors that influence a patient’s health and ability to adhere to a treatment plan.
This year’s class of 115 graduating MD students is the first to have completed all four years of the Genes to Society curriculum, which includes courses on health care disparities, patient safety, and palliative care. Topics such as ethics, population health, and the structure of health care systems have also been woven throughout the curriculum. Also, there is more focus on learning about substance abuse and pain management.
Zampella, who finished his medical studies in May, has a unique perspective. The old curriculum was in place during his first two years of medical school. He took time off in the middle of his studies for a Howard Hughes Research Fellowship. When he returned for his last two years of medical school, he jumped into the Genes to Society curriculum.
“They added some really important features, such as transitional courses to prepare us for hospital-based clerkships and sessions between semesters to learn about the societal aspects of medicine, such as helping patients with end of life care and navigating the health care system,” says Zampella, who plans to go into dermatology and will begin a residency at Hopkins Hospital in July.
Genes to Society also streamlined the learning about different organ systems, such as the cardiovascular system, by integrating normal and abnormal anatomy, physiology, and pathology into one course, rather than having the healthy and the diseased aspects of organ systems taught in separate courses given in different years.
“Our goal is to get the students to use a systems approach to understanding health and disease, and be more collaborative and integrative in their thinking while gaining skills in problem solving,” says Patricia Thomas, professor of medicine and associate dean for curriculum. “Also, by assigning a faculty member to each student to act as a mentor, we want to help strengthen their personal development as medical professionals,” she adds.
Matthew Huddle ’13 says the Genes to Society curriculum gave him a broad perspective on the issues he will have to consider as a doctor. “When I first came to medical school, I didn’t realize how important societal determinants are to understanding a patient’s health and developing a treatment plan,” says Huddle, who wants to become an otolaryngologist and will do his residency at Johns Hopkins. “I think we are well prepared and the curriculum has given us the basic skills to succeed.” Ellen Beth Levitt