UCHealth Memorial Hospital soon will begin playing a major role in educating the physicians of tomorrow. On May 2, students from the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s new Colorado Springs branch will begin clinical rotations at the hospital.
In all, 22 third-year students will begin a year of training in Colorado Springs, with Memorial hosting 15 of the students during Week 1 of an eight-week hospital-based immersion experience. The students also will do hospital training at Evans Army Community Hospital, Penrose Hospital, HealthSouth and the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo.
“Memorial is taking most of our students for their inpatient immersion experiences in surgery, anesthesiology, internal medicine, labor and delivery, and pediatrics,” said Dr. Erik Wallace, associate dean for the Colorado Springs branch of the CU School of Medicine.
After two months of inpatient experiences, students will primarily move to outpatient settings as part of the Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (LIC) model.
Work to establish the Springs medical school branch began in 2012, when Memorial Hospital and UCHealth entered a lease agreement. At that time, UCHealth made a commitment to provide $3 million a year to support the branch for 40 years.
“Memorial Hospital is proud to help support the CU School of Medicine’s branch medical campus, as this will bring more physicians to Colorado Springs and enhance the level of care our patients receive for decades to come,” said George Hayes, president and CEO of the hospital.
One goal of the Springs branch is to graduate more medical students; the branch allows the university to expand its class size by two dozen students each year.
“The second big motivating factor is when you form a branch campus, you want it to be able to serve the needs of the community it’s located in,” Wallace said. “We hope this will help kick-start a robust system of medical education and training so Colorado Springs can start producing physicians to meet the needs of the community,” he said, adding that many physicians end up practicing in the communities where they received their education or training.
It’s also important that the students coming to Colorado Springs want to be here.
“We don’t want to bring students here who feel like this is not the best location for them to get their medical education,” Wallace said. “We want them to feel like ‘this is where I want to be and this is the best place for me,’ and that has worked out very well for us. We’ve been able to recruit students to come here who have ties to the community.”
One of those students is Eric Webster, who said he is excited to be in Colorado Springs.
“I think that Colorado Springs is just a beautiful community; there are a lot of great activities. You have great mountain biking, the Incline, Pikes Peak. As far as big cities go, it’s my favorite place on the Front Range. I like the people there, and we get to work [long-term] with the same doctors, we get to know them well, they get to know us well,” Webster said.
The Virginia native fell in love with Colorado after a 10th-grade ski trip to Crested Butte and went on to attend college at Western State in Gunnison and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, earning degrees in psychology and biochemistry. The combination of his schooling and wildly varied work experiences led him to the conclusion that a career in medicine would be a good fit; Webster has been a deputy in the Gunnison County Detention Center, worked the overnight shift at a homeless shelter in Fort Collins, became a certified EMT and also spent four years in the PACU at UCHealth’s Poudre Valley Hospital.
Webster hopes to practice medicine in a rural community in Colorado and likes that the Colorado Springs program will enable him to form relationships with physicians and patients in the area.
Wallace, the associate dean, said unlike the traditional block model of medical education – where, for example, a student might see patients in surgery but never see them again – the training in Colorado Springs will allow students to follow some patients long-term.
“We want them to be as involved with patient care as they can – the students will learn more if they are actively involved in the management of patients,” Wallace said. “Our students will be working one-on-one with the attending – the attending physician is obviously the one taking care of the patients. The students will be learning how to take histories, diagnose and treat patients. But they’re really going to be tied to the patients longitudinally, and that’s where the big benefit comes in.
“If you can imagine being a patient in Colorado Springs and let’s say you go to the doctor, there’s a good chance you’re going to be referred to get a test or see another physician that may not be part of that same system that your primary care doctor is in. Our patients are navigating a very complicated health care system where communication has not always been ideal. Information may get lost or information my not flow ideally from location to location. And that’s confusing for our patients and a struggle for them. Our hope is that our students can help bridge that gap – they can be a patient navigator and they really can be there to benefit the patients as they are moving through the health care system here in Colorado Springs.
“The big benefit for the student is they really get to see health care from the patient’s perspective. They really get a more comprehensive picture of what it’s like for a patient to experience the health care system and particular disease that they are struggling with.”
Wallace said he is excited by the opportunity to improve care in Colorado Springs.
“Bringing medical education to Colorado Springs not only benefits our students and the university but it’s going to benefit the community in a lot of ways. We hope to improve the quality of care. We hope to improve the physician workforce and have this be a place where Colorado Springs is the ideal place to receive your medical education, receive medical care and to practice medicine.”
The students will be welcomed at a reception at Ivywild School on Friday, April 29, Wallace added. “We sent out over 600 invitations – it’s a chance for the community show up and say, ‘Welcome medical students – we’re glad you’re here and we support you.’”