Medical students trade books for scrubs

Community clerkship puts students on front line of health care

Two UBC medical students are learning to think on their feet as they leap from academic studies into real-life scenarios at the Trail hospital and local medical clinics.

Vancouver’s Dorothy Kuk and Kimberley native Nick Leinweber, third-year students of the University of British Columbia’s distributed MD undergraduate program, were selected to take part in the southern medical program’s year-long integrated community clerkship in Trail.

Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital, along with a facility in Vernon, has been established as a teaching hospital for the pilot program that hopes to expand to facilities in Penticton and Cranbrook in the future.

“It’s a big change from being in a lecture hall for five days a week to a hospital and having patient contact every day,” said Leinweber.

“It opens up a whole new world of procedural skills and it’s hands on as opposed to interacting with a screen and lecture in large classrooms.”

Based in Kelowna, the new southern medical program is the fourth of UBC’s MD undergraduate program, which aims to improve upon the number of rural students seeking medical careers.

“I think what’s really unique about this program is that there’s this longitude nature of how we follow our patients,” said Kuk, recalling an awarding time when she monitored an expectant mother and then helped deliver her twins.

Unlike a traditional block rotation where a student would work in one area of the hospital for a time then move on to another, the integrated clerkship allows a student to work with patients through the entire care cycle – from diagnosis to treatment and follow-up.

Led by Dr. Cheryl Hume, the students shadow family physicians out of Riverside Family Medicine, Columbia Family Medicine and the Beaver Valley Clinic, and work alongside a number of specialists at the Trail hospital, which gives them the opportunity to bounce between areas of expertise.

“It’s a real community feeling,” said Leinweber. “People call you by your first name and you’re not just one of the bunch of people in a flock walking around.”

But transitioning from an academic setting to dealing with patients has been a learning curve for the two students.

“It’s like learning the art part now besides just the theory of how do you balance all the multiple issues because you’re dealing with a real person,” said Leinweber. “They’re not a test that you’re going through and trying to understand.”

For Kuk, the emotional connection she’s had with her patients has added a new element that no class could prepare her for.

“Going from textbooks to seeing real patients in pain or who are dying or suffering in anyway, it can be quite emotionally taxing sometimes,” she said. “It seems like a fine art that all of the doctors here have, where they can empathize but at the same time be very professional.”

While being involved in the pilot program for Leinweber was a chance to return to a region he grew up in and complete training close to home, for Kuk it was an entirely opposite opportunity.

“This was an experience to really figure out for myself whether I’d be suitable to live and work in a smaller community because I’m really very seriously interested in working in a place like this.”

The new partnership between UBC’s southern medical program and Interior Health is viewed as a great opportunity for students to gain clinical training while experiencing the benefits of practicing medicine in a smaller, rural community.

The program gives students a chance to complete their training in rural and underserved communities where they are more likely to return to practice after their studies.

“The doctors, all the ones I’ve spoken to, said that they really find it kind of energizing to have the students here,” added Alison Morrison, program assistant.

Since the new program just started, the first integrated clerkship opportunities were offered to students in sister programs on Vancouver Island, the north and Greater Vancouver.

By 2013, it’s anticipated that 32 students will be entering their third year of the MD undergraduate program with an anticipated four to six students participating in a clerkship in Vernon or Trail.