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Training the 21st-Century Physician

By Ashley Rizzardo

It’s one thing to be a clinician; it’s another to be a “clinician-citizen.” In the autumn of 2014, the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) committed to integrating clinical public health into MD education and thus working toward graduating clinician-citizens.

Art illustration of black and white figures against an american flag.

The next phase of the clinical public health curriculum, according to Lawrence “Bopper” Deyton, MD ’85, MSPH, senior associate dean for clinical public health at SMHS, takes form in the Patients, Populations, and Systems course series, which began in the fall of 2018.

In 2014, SMHS incorporated clinical public health into the MD curriculum with topical lectures, integration of public health into case-based learning, and clinical public health summits — experiential learning opportunities in which students could use their biomedical sciences knowledge as they addressed pressing public health issues. At the end of their first semester, for example, students participate in the HIV summit, engaging with experts at all levels of HIV/AIDS research and policy to learn how they as clinicians can help create an AIDS-free generation.

The Patients, Populations, and Systems course series will now incorporate and expand upon these lectures and summits.

“This puts all the information in the context of why it’s important for practicing clinicians to understand and be able to use the principles of public health, population health, and health policy,” Deyton says.
The three-semester course series will extend throughout the pre-clinical phase of the MD program. The courses are designed “to facilitate students’ ability to integrate basic sciences, clinical care, evidence-based practice, and population health into systems-based practice to promote the health of individual patients and their communities, and to improve the conditions and systems that affect them,” explains Karla Bartholomew, PhD, JD, MPH, PA, director of the Patients, Populations, and Systems courses.

The course series will take full advantage of GW’s unique location in the nation’s capital with presentations by local, national, and international leaders in public health, health systems and policy, and community health. The courses will also provide students with the opportunity to apply what they learn through weekly interactive class sessions, small group case discussions, and the clinical public health summits.

“Through these courses, we want students to recognize that patients and their health exist in a context and that health care occurs within a broader set of systems,” Bartholomew says. “We also want students to understand what these concepts will mean to them in their role as clinicians, so we are creating opportunities for students to apply their learning to real-world situations throughout the course series.”

Additionally, students will gain the knowledge and skills to go beyond the clinical setting, with sessions that include policy and advocacy, community engagement, health disparities, and translation of research for diverse audiences. Students will also learn about health systems; topics will include quality and safety, big data and informatics, and access and patient-centered care.

“This course is really at the cutting edge of how medical schools are trying to prepare the next generation of clinicians,” Deyton says. “This is how SMHS is teaching students to be successful as 21st-century physicians.”