The Duke School of Medicine is in the process of building a new medical education Learning Center slated for completion late 2012. The $55 million facility, which is funded in part by a $50 million donation from the Charlotte-based Duke Endowment, hopes to provide clinical simulation training for medical students. Dr. Nancy Andrews, dean of the School of Medicine, hopes that the state-of-the-art facility will advance the school’s clinical training and student life. The Chronicle’s Andrew Luo spoke with Andrews about the features of the new Learning Center and the latest round of medical school admissions.
The Chronicle: Over this past year, what are some projects that you have been working on at the medical school?
Nancy Andrews: One of our most exciting projects is the new Learning Center building. It is set to open in November, and it will be the first time in 80 years that we have a new building dedicated to medical education. It will have classrooms for medical students and public spaces for all of our learners.
TC: What are some of the new technologies that will be placed in the Learning Center?
NA: One of the floors of the Learning Center will be dedicated to simulation in medical health education. This includes three general areas. One is simulation in which an actor portrays a patient and tries to be examined as a patient. The second kind is when there are highly sophisticated mannequins that have physiological responses, which is helpful for learning about emergency situations and procedures, so when a student encounters an actual emergency situation, they would have had some kind of training beforehand. The third kind of simulation is a video game simulation in which learners can interact or collaborate on a difficult medical scenario. These simulations train our students about practical side of medicine. Since most of our students’ education is geared toward clinical care training starting their second year of medical school, the Learning Center gives students training without having a real patient there. Students can practice and get a preview of clinical care without the pressure of someone else’s health on the line.
TC: What are some of the other features in the Learning Center?
NA: Well, on the bottom floor of the center, there will be an open room in which we can hold large meetings. Currently, we do not have a large space that can hold 400 or 500 people on the medical school campus. On the next floor up, there will be a café and some classroom space for medical school students. Throughout the building, there will be spaces for faculty to sit and talk to students, as well as for students to study. The hope is that the new Learning Center will give medical students a “home base.” Right now, medical students take classes across various buildings on campus. Though the Learning Center will not have a research or clinical space, it will be located at the center of the various medical buildings on campus.
TC: In terms of the medical school’s admissions, what has the application process been like over this past year?
NA: Admissions are ongoing right now, and we have just sent out our acceptances. This year, we changed the interview process. In the past, we had the traditional interviews in which applicants met with an interviewer for about half an hour or more and had a conversation. Now, we have a multiple mini-interviews at different stations in which applicants have a short amount of time to interact with interviewers or other applicants. The applicants are scored separately and a composite score is made.
TC: What is the reason for this change?
NA: Many interviewers make their decisions very early on in the interview, and they have already got an impression. Although this might change throughout the interview, it is quite common for interviewers to have a strong impression of the applicant very early on in the process. One of the advantages of the new system is that more people will be able to give opinions on the applicant in the same amount of time. There are also some planned questions and activities that everyone goes through, so reviewers at each station will be able to judge how each applicant responds to the same set of questions. Essentially, this standardizes the interview process and makes it fairer than it was in the past by giving us more ways to evaluate each applicant. This has been used by several other schools, but this is the first year that we have used it at Duke.
TC: Has this change of the interview format affected the application process? Do you think the addition of the new MCAT will affect the application process at all?
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NA: No, not really. Every year we get between 4,500 to 5,000 applicants for a class size of roughly 100 students. The application process is not too different from applying to college. For example, it includes your grades, letters of recommendation, test scores. However, not every college offers interviews for its applicants applying out of high school, but for medical school, the interview is a very important part of the process. As for the MCAT, the new version will not be instituted until 2015, so it is still hard to predict what its impact will be. I believe that for the first couple years after the new MCAT is instituted, medical schools will have to slightly adjust their evaluation system to include the new information that the MCAT will cover.
TC: What are some of your goals for the coming year?
NA: Well, the main focus right now is opening the Learning Center, which is a very important goal. The building is set to finish by November, and medical students start having classes in this new building by January of next year. We also have several other ongoing initiatives in areas across the full spectrum of biomedical research. One of our strategies is to encourage and provide funding for research that brings together faculty members and students who have very different perspectives. We feel like this puts us in a better position to solve difficult problems.