Making Connections: First-Year Medical Students Return to Campus, but Don’t Call it Orientation
The twin emotions of anxiety and excitement were on full display during the Lewis Katz School of Medicine’s “Transition to Medical School” – a week-long gathering of first-year medical students that was formerly called “Orientation.”
Held the week of August 3, this year’s gathering differed in more ways than just its title. In addition to physical-distancing requirements due to COVID-19, the structure of the week was significantly different than it was in the past.
“Orientation used to revolve more around social activities and an introduction to Temple,” said Denise Salerno, MD, FAAP, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Associate Dean of Longitudinal Curricular Threads. “We decided to change the structure of the week because we wanted to ensure the students were ready for medical school on day one. For example, getting some initial educational sessions done up front to give them a taste of what they’ll be doing over the next two years.”
One of those new sessions focused on transitioning from “group work” to “teamwork” and what that means in the medical field. Students learned about the differences between the two and the importance of working with and trusting all members of the healthcare team.
The students also participated in their first clinical reasoning conference, or CRC. After some prep work, they were presented with a clinical case and then had to work through it with a team of fellow students.
During the week, students also heard from many basic science faculty members and learned about the resources in the LKSOM library and where to turn with clinical questions.
“So, for example, how do a textbook, a review article, a peer-reviewed article, or a meta-analysis differ and what is each good for,” Dr. Salerno said.
Another session presented by LKSOM’s Center for Urban Bioethics introduced the students to North Philadelphia, its history, and the many opportunities available to engage with the community.
According to Stephanie Barbetta, MD, FAAFP, the week was a huge success.
“Our goal was to ‘make the connection,’ which is so important for the students to do with each other, with the faculty, and with administration,” said Dr. Barbetta, Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine and Associate Dean of Student Affairs. “The students came in ready to engage and were very appreciative that we held the week in person and not online.”
“When planning the week, we put value in the time the students would spend together and tried to get the most out of the week educationally and socially,” she continued. “It was important to prepare them for the curricular work while mixing in icebreaker-type activities.”
In addition to a new format and sessions, the week also faced many logistical challenges due to COVID-19. For example, how do you gather nearly 200 students together while remaining six feet apart? Answer: you get creative.
“In the past, most orientation sessions involved the entire class sitting in MERB 105, the large first-year lecture room,” Dr. Salerno says. “But social distancing and limitations on large gatherings due to COVID required us to make significant adjustments. We had to divide the class into smaller groups and put them in multiple rooms. We then either livestreamed one speaker into the rooms or had separate speakers. Masks were also required the entire week, with many of the students wearing bright red masks adorned with the Temple ‘T’ that we provided them. I think the students were appreciative of the steps we took to assure their safety.”
A highlight of the week came on Friday when the students were presented with their own Temple-branded stethoscopes, generously provided by donations from LKSOM alumni, staff, and friends. While many aspects of their introduction to medical school looked different this year, this special gift remained the same and the enthusiasm displayed when they opened them was obvious.
“Even though we didn’t have a formal ceremony as we’ve had in the past, there was still excitement in the students’ eyes when they received the stethoscopes,” Dr. Barbetta said. “They were proud, and they were ready. You never forget that moment. It was still special to them even though it was different.”
That sentiment was echoed by the students themselves.
“The week was almost overwhelming at first, but on the last day when I walked into the auditorium and saw everyone with their white coats draped over their chairs…wow, it became real,” said Brendan McShane, who is from Wayne, Pa. “I spent six years getting here and now it’s finally happening.”
Norman Harris, a first-year student from Memphis, TN, described the first week as “exciting with sprinkles of anxiety.”
“I participated in the summer PREP program [Prematriculation Readiness and Enrichment Program], so I was kind of acquainted with the flow of things,” he said. “But there was still anxiety getting started. This week confirmed that I made the right choice coming to Temple.”
As the students filed out of the building on Friday afternoon, many stuck around on the outside patio, taking photos, chatting with newly made friends, and listening to the supportive honks of cars passing by on Broad Street.
“It was nice to see the transition from day one where they were all sitting apart not talking to today where they are all one,” Dr. Salerno said. “Having them make that connection was very important for us when planning this week, especially in this time of social distancing. I think we pulled it off.”
The Temple-branded stethoscopes are funded through donations to LKSOM’s White Coat Gift Fund, which also support student activities such as wellness programs and volunteer/community service opportunities.