What makes a great physician? Certainly you need to understand the functioning of the human body, how to diagnose medical problems, and how to treat those problems in the most effective way possible. But being a great physician demands more than diagnostic and clinical skills.
Great physicians maintain high ethical standards even under trying circumstances. They keep their composure when every second counts. And they have an intellectual curiosity that drives them to seek more knowledge. In short, a great physician is an alloy made from professional competence and personal excellence.
The UNLV School of Medicine is taking an innovative approach to build up both sides of their students’ characteristics. Interspersed through the curriculum are eight weeklong “intersessions” for academic and personal enrichment. Each intersession will be organized around a theme and address topics such as anthropology, bioethics, entrepreneurship, history of medicine, hospitality, humanism, global health, law, and nutrition.
Dr. Mark Guadagnoli, the School of Medicine’s director of learning and performance, leads the intersessions program. "These intersessions are designed as a celebration of personal and professional growth,” he said. “The intention is to help our students become well-rounded, caring, and competent physicians who embrace the idea of constant improvement in all they do."
Each intersession is timed to a point in the general curriculum where the topic will make the greatest impact. For example, the first phase of medical school begins with an intensive six-week course leading to emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. This initial exposure to emergency medicine serves as a prelude to the “Shark Week” intersession, which focuses on wilderness and emergency medicine. Later in the curriculum, after students take their first round of exams — a time when they desperately seek ways to increase learning and decrease stress — students will take “You 2.0,” designed to optimize learning and individual performance.
There’s a “cool” factor to the intersessions, Guadagnoli noted, with a focus on creating a vibe that celebrates learning. Students kick off each intersession with a self-assessment of their performance in medical school, with an eye to identifying and building on strengths and successes. This is followed by a keynote address that sets the tone and purpose for the week ahead. Over the following days, students can choose from multiple sessions with subsequent in-depth workshops — an approach much like a TED Talk conference.
At the end of the week, each student presents his or her personal growth plan to the faculty and peers as part of a small group. By sharing their growth plans, students will nurture the development of support networks, enhance their communication skills, and help drive a culture of constant improvement.
Members of the Las Vegas community also play a vital role in the intersessions program. For example, the “The Dark Side” intersession covers social issues such as addiction, drug trafficking, homelessness, and mental illness. Local agencies and individuals who work with these issues will help develop and implement the events for the week.
This approach aligns with the UNLV School of Medicine’s emphasis on building relationships with the community. It will give students a level of insight and authenticity they cannot get from a textbook, particularly on the societal challenges faced by Southern Nevadans.
The intersessions will be one of the key experiences that distinguish UNLV’s School of Medicine from others, according to Dr. Neil Haycocks, director of biomedical science integration. “Every topic cracks open a keyhole into an intellectual space that the students might otherwise not experience. The more we enrich their lives now, the more they will understand the big world beyond medical school.”