New Medical School Bases Its Curriculum on Community Care

To combat the nation’s severe doctor shortage, five new medical schools have opened since 2009 and an additional 10 are in the process of receiving accreditation.  In addition to producing badly needed new physicians, these medical schools are also working to reshape how doctors are educated.  A case in point is Miami-based Florida International University’s (FIU) College of Medicine, which bases its teaching on a community-based medical curriculum.

Medical students at FIU are assigned a family who lives in a targeted Miami neighborhood.  Dr. John Rock, the medical school’s founding dean, believes the mission is to improve the chosen family’s health and improve the neighborhood’s quality of life.  “We’ve adopted those neighborhoods, and we never leave.  Clearly, we have a commitment to those neighborhoods to be there and to work with households and the community to address the socio-determinants of healthcare,” Rock says.  Rock, whose past experience includes stints at Johns Hopkins and as chancellor of Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center, says his primary goal at FIU is to graduate primary-care physicians.  At the same time, he believes the deep commitment to community care will enhance the careers of those physicians who ultimately practice in a specialty field.

FIU’s unique curriculum was created by Dr. Joe Greer, a gastroenterologist who directs Camillus Health Concern,  a free clinic that serves Miami’s poor and homeless.  Dr. Greer, who has advised two presidents and received a prestigious MacArthur Fellows award, says “What we’ve become is a nation of interventionalists.  If you’re dying, I’ll save you.  But, it’s sort of like in America, we won’t let you die, but we’ll let you suffer.  So how do we get beyond that?”

Although other medical schools are committed to community-based medicine, Dr. Greer believes that FIU has a distinct advantage because of its newness.  “Changing a curriculum in a medical school is like turning a battleship in a pool.  Luckily, all we had was a raft.  Now our job is to make sure that raft is pointed in the right direction, so that when it becomes a battleship, it has the ability to turn when the turns are needed to adjust to society,” according to Greer.

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