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May 20, 2014

Columbia-Bassett program's first class to graduate

By Jessica Reynolds Staff writer
The Daily Star

---- — More than four years ago, 10 pre-med students took a leap of faith and became the first individuals to enroll in the Columbia-Bassett Medical School Program.

This Wednesday, eight of those 10 original students will graduate from Columbia University in New York City. They are the first students to complete the innovative program, which was launched in 2010, according to a media release from Bassett Medical Center. 

Allan Guiney of Cooperstown is one of these graduates. Guiney said both of his parents used to work as physicians at Bassett. He said he was excited to enroll in the program and learn medicine in a community where he has deep roots.

Dr. Walter Franck, Columbia’s senior associate dean at Bassett, said he is “very proud” of the Columbia-Bassett program, its faculty and the graduates.

“These students got accepted at the best medical schools in the country, but they took a real chance and enrolled in our brand new program,” Franck said, “And it came out great.”

Franck said he was instrumental in the creation of the program, which was designed to combine traditional medical education in an urban environment with hospital-based outpatient and inpatient clinical education in a rural environment: Cooperstown’s Bassett Medical Center.

Students spend the first year and a half of the program at Columbia with the university’s other students, Franck said. In January of the students’ second year, they relocate to Cooperstown, where they live and learn until their graduation.

For the two and a half years they are in Cooperstown, students learn the basic clinical disciplines, Franck said. These are general medicine, surgery, obstetrician-gynecology, pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry and neurology. Students are exposed to medicine in a different environment and, therefore, are introduced to medical issues they may not be familiar with, he said. 

“Farm-related accidents, which happen often in this area, are very different from gun shot wounds or AIDS, which are common in urban areas,” Franck said. “The students get the opportunity to work hands-on at Bassett with these different kinds of issues.”

Students rotate through various in-patient clinics and are paired with their own preceptor, who they work with for a year. During this time, students get to know their patients and follow them from diagnosis to cure, developing their own panel of patients. They get to see the disease as a process, rather than a snapshot, according to Bassett’s release.

“It allows them to develop personal relationships with both the patients and preceptors,” Franck said. “It helps them really feel like doctors and is much more rewarding for them.”

Franck said this “longitudinal,” “relationship-space” program is modeled after Harvard Medical School’s program, and has been shown to increase students’ confidence in their abilities.

Guiney, who had not chosen a specialty when he started medical school in 2010, said the longitudinal curriculum gave him an interesting view of medicine and helped him choose a path.

“I settled on emergency medicine after I watched a few of the patients in my portfolio come through the emergency room,” Guiney said. “It was rewarding to follow patients throughout the gamut of their medical care.”

Medical providers are few and far between these days, especially in rural areas, Franck said. Medical schools face pressure to increase their acceptance rates to solve this problem. Fortunately, The Columbia-Basset program has enabled Columbia University to accept 10 more students each year. 

More than 700 students apply for the program, Franck said. The incoming freshman class has already been selected for the fall semester.

Franck said the eight students who are graduating are a tight-knit bunch. After graduation, they will enter into residencies in the fields of primary care, family medicine, pediatrics, child neurology, emergency room medicine and urology, to name a few. The two other students who were in the original freshman class will graduate later on because they took time off for other important commitments, Franck said. 

Aside from Wednesday’s commencement in New York, the graduates were also honored at a small, informal reception on Sunday at the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, Franck said.

“We wanted to have our own graduation for them, too,” Franck said. “They brought their families. It was nice and homey and informal. It was important to the students to have both types of ceremonies.”