If This Foundation Has Its Way, Medical School Training May Never Be the Same  

“Patient-centered care” is one watchword of American medicine these days. With health costs booming, and patients demanding a stronger say in treatment options, doctors are under pressure to adjust their practice from a top-down model to a more compassionate team-based partnership with their patients.

To stay ahead of the curve, medical schools also need to re-think the way they train their students to become doctors of the future, experts say.

In fact, it’s already happening. The Waukesha, WI-based Kern Family Foundation recently awarded a $37.8 million grant to the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) to overhaul its medical training program. The grant is intended to allow students to gain practical experience as medical professionals in their local communities as soon as they begin their studies. It also will help train medical students to work in teams, with the doctor or head nurse viewed as one vital component of a more collective treatment practice.

The new patient-centered medical education model supported by the Kern grant emphasizes the need for medical professionals to embrace “compassion” as a vital component of 21st-century health care alongside the traditional concern with medical “expertise.” Students that train to become doctors or nurses must invest in their patients and become knowledgeable about of their larger concerns as well as the actual settings in which they live.

The Kern-MCW partnership is hardly new. But it’s one of the largest such private grants awarded to fund training innovation at American medical schools.

Other examples include the University of South Carolina School of Medicine (USC-SOM) in Greenville where students undergo EMT training and certification even before they start the rest of their curriculum. Students also serve one shift per month as EMTs to the community for the first two years of their medical training.  

At the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) in Camden, New Jersey, students are required to see patients at a free community health clinic once a week under the supervision of resident and attending physicians.

CMSRU’s visionary training ethos is apparent from the front page of its website. “Are you interested in joining a mission-driven medical school that focuses on community service, early clinical exposure, and an innovative curriculum?” the site asks.

Aside from instilling greater compassion for patients, the programs at both USCSOM-Greenville and CMSRU incorporate team-based learning.

“It used to be that the physician was the captain of the team,” CMSRU’s founding dean, Dr. Paul Katz, said in an interview. “Now the physician is a member of the team, along with other health professionals. When you see how care is developed, it’s becoming less hierarchical. Now it’s important to have a team approach to problem-solving.”

In some ways schools like CMSRU have a distinct advantage. The school was founded just five years ago as a partnership between Cooper Hospital and Rowan University. It’s the first new medical school established in New Jersey in more than 35 years.

It’s also a public university funded with taxpayer money. Using his executive authority, then-New Jersey governor John Corzine simply ordered the creation of the school with the stroke of his pen.

Other more long-established schools like MCW— founded in 1893— don’t have the luxury of starting from scratch with a new training model. Their traditional training culture is still deeply ingrained.

And with government subsidies to health under siege in Republican-controlled Wisconsin, public funding of a new hospital is not a serious option, either.

The Kern program initiative is not focused on a single university but on seven different medical schools across the country that Kern is funding as part of a “National Transformation Network.”

Besides MCW, the network includes: the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, University of California – San Francisco School of Medicine, University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Cheryl Maurana, a founding director of MCW’s new Kern Institute, says the idea is to apply different models of training throughout the entire network. She’s hoping the seven schools will compare notes and share lessons learned.

She’s also hoping to sponsor formal evaluations to demonstrate that new training approaches impact quality of patient care and might affect student achievement and medical professional morale and retention rates.

The total initial investment in the Kern Institute is $52.5 million, which includes the gift from the Kern Family and Kern Family Foundation, and contributions from MCW, National Transformation Network partner medical schools and other philanthropic support.

The opportunity to transform medical education is consistent with the “systemic change” focus of the Kern Family Foundation. The foundation disdains mere “charity” and seeks to fund “broad impact, long-term programs.” Key focus areas include entrepreneurship, the value of hard work, character building, and quality education

Maurana says she has high hopes for Kern’s new program effort. “This model could allow us to set the standard in medical education around the world,” she told the Milwaukee Business Times.

Kern was founded in 1998 from a partial selloff of the electric power generator manufacturing company, Generac Power Systems. It enjoys strong ties to one of the nation’s leading conservative philanthropies, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which IP profiled last month. Bradley President/CEO Rick Graber sits on Kern’s seven-member board.