There are a lot of new faces at Bethesda Hospital East. They are members of the very first class at Florida Atlantic University’s new medical school.
About 60 students are scheduled to graduate in 2015. By design, the medical school will be kept small, fewer than 300 students when the school has its full complement. And unlike most medical schools, where some classes are larger than FAU’s projected school at full capacity, FAU students will be kept in small groups and are attached to physicians in practice almost from their first day of class.
The idea is to expose them to every type of medicine, from pediatrics to geriatrics and everything in between, so that when they apply for internships, they will know exactly what they are getting into.
Some are like John Ciotti, from Tampa. He’s working with a surgeon for a few weeks at Bethesda, but he says, “I’m at the point where I still like everything.”
Eric Downes, who lives in Boynton Beach, says he feels drawn to be a primary care physician.
“I enjoy the interaction with the patient,” he said. “In trauma surgery, you are more pressed for time. Outpatient care gives you a little more time.”
Downes also likes community outreach, which is good since the FAU faculty encourages its medical students to treat their patients in the holistic context of their lives, work and family — and encourages them to do community service. Downes has been collecting diapers, toys and over-the-counter medicines to send to a medical mission in Honduras.
Kristen Baker of Lake Worth has had a taste of emergency medicine and she likes it.
“I like emergency medicine, it’s something different every time, and you have 15 minutes — or less — to figure it out.”
She and Downes have been working in the pediatric unit at Bethesda, but she spent time in the emergency room at Boca Raton Regional Hospital several months ago and accompanied emergency medical technicians in Miami-Dade County, where she saw patients who had suffered traumatic injuries.
If she were to predict where she would end up in the vast world of medicine, she is guessing it would be in emergency care, specializing in children.
The purpose of the broad exposure is not just about medicine. The work- and lifestyle of an emergency room doctor is different from that of an anesthesiologist or an internist. The personality required to be a surgeon is different from the personality of a pediatrician.
About 80 percent of the students at FAU medical school are Floridians, and FAU is hoping that they will end up practicing in their home state. They are just about 50/50 by gender and 10 percent of them come from “populations traditionally underrepresented in medicine,” according to the school’s brochure. In-state students pay about $25,000 a year in tuition; out-of state tuition is $57,000. Some of them will attain dual MD/Ph.D. degrees from FAU and Scripps Florida. Besides the hospitals working with the students, another five in Palm Beach County will add some of the students as residents.
In the new $20 million, 95,000-square-foot college, they work on state-of-the-art human simulations that can bleed, talk — and even die if the student chooses the wrong treatment.
About 1,000 local physicians have made themselves available to work with the students, including being trained in how best to educate them.
At Bethesda and five other participating hospitals, the medical students are the first medical person to talk to patients.
“They are the data gatherers,” said Sarah Wood, the students’ FAU faculty supervisor. “They have to learn to collect information in an efficient way and present it to the attending physician.”
“Our presentations are pretty structured,” said Downes. “We tell them what the patient tells us, what we observe, our assessment and our plan. The (physician) may pause us in the midst of our presentation” to ask questions.