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First-year medical students at the University of Virginia Medical School Medicine have begun learning to work in teams, use web technology and computer databases, and rely on relevant expertise of nonphysicians and surgeons from day one of their education. These lessons in how to deliver high-quality, error-free medicine usually come only once med students begin conducting supervised rounds and clinic rotations in the third year of training.

Since learning how to practice collaboratively with other physicians, nurses and pharmacists — as well as how to communicate with patients — in order to achieve the best outcomes from medical treatments can take many years, the earlier students begin such training, the better.

A feature in the Spring 2011 University of Virginia Magazine explains how the whole model of doctor training at the school has shifted in the following ways:

Emphases of Doctor Training at UVA Medical School
New Focus
Old Focus
Applying knowledge
Regurgitating Facts
Problem Solving Rote Learning
Dialogue Lecture
Facilitating Telling
Critical Thinking Memorizing
Simulation Observation
Teams Sole Practitioners
Hands On Passive Listening
Individualized Learning One Size Fits All
Self-Directed Learning Top-Down Learning

In the classroom, med students work in groups of eight, use computers constantly and debate diagnoses and treatment strategies with fellow students. In practical labs, the students interact with simulation dummies programmed to "speak" with the voices of actors and to show responses to touch. Those hands-on practice sessions prepare students to work with real patients.

Making medical school education as much like real-world practice can only improve young doctors’ performance in actual clinics and hospitals. And improved performance means, exactly, fewer cases in which mistakes, errors and unintentional neglect cause harm to patients.

As a graduate of UVA, I’m proud that my alma mater is taking a lead role in reshaping doctors’ education. As a personal injury attorney with a law firm whose lawyers have represented too many victims of medical malpractice, I hope the new approach to training produces physicians fully equipped to help patients recover their health without putting them at risk for harmful errors.


About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm (VA-NC law offices ) edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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