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Inaugural Columbia-Bassett Class Begins Innovative MD Program

Unique Urban-Rural Program to Train New Generation of Doctors
August 18, 2010


Among more than 160 women and men who will begin their medical careers with a White Coat Ceremony on August 27, 2010, ten belong to the first class of students enrolled in an innovative new program created between P&S and its upstate clinical affiliate, Bassett Healthcare.

Commonly thought of as a program to address the shortage of rural physicians – in New York and elsewhere – the Columbia-Bassett Program is just as intent on training a new generation of doctors capable of leading health systems that promote both quality and cost-effective delivery of care.

Students in the Columbia-Bassett Program will spend their first 18 months learning the basic science curriculum with the rest of their class in Manhattan, but their clinical training for the following two and a half years will be based at Bassett Healthcare in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“This program provides two unique learning experiences,” says Ronald Drusin’66, vice dean for education at P&S. “The mission of the College of Physicians and Surgeons is to develop future leaders in patient care, research, education, and policy. The Bassett campus additionally provides students with learning opportunities in a rural setting with an emphasis on longitudinal patient relationships.”

Instead of having blocks of clinical experiences, moving from one set of patients to the next, Columbia-Bassett students will manage the care of individual patients over time and through different types of medical problems, following them in ambulatory clinics and in the hospital. They will get to know their patients as people and see a disease as a process, not a snapshot.

Columbia-Bassett students also will be exposed to health care features not usually part of the medical school curriculum, such as finance, risk management, patient safety, quality improvement, and medical informatics. With advanced computer technology and an electronic medical record that links the Bassett network across 5,000 square miles, Bassett also provides a unique opportunity to learn medicine at both the individual and the population level as it serves an entire region of New York state.

“In this new era of medical education, physician training is not just about medicine and science,” says Henry Weil’86, Columbia’s assistant dean for education at Bassett Healthcare. The goal of the Columbia-Bassett curriculum, says Dr. Weil, is to turn out skilled clinicians who are passionate about patient care, good communicators, adept at evidence-based medicine, and accountable to society as responsible managers of the health care system.

The hope is that the program will prepare the students for a different kind of health care leadership, the kind Bassett is renowned for, says Stephen Nicholas, M.D., associate dean for admissions at P&S. “These are exceptionally gifted individuals who will be leaders in health care, just as their fellow P&S students who spend four years in New York City will be.”


Wide Interest in New Program

Over 750 applicants applied for the 10 spots open in this year’s Columbia-Bassett class. Applications were received from students from at least 217 colleges, from all states (except Hawaii), and from Canada and Australia. Ten out of 14 students who were offered admission opted to enroll.

“Because I grew up in an underserved county, I have a lot of interest in pursuing rural medicine and I am interested in different health care models,” says new Columbia-Bassett student Haley Masterson, a University of Kansas graduate who grew up in Riley County, Kan.

“My brother’s rare illness put us in the middle of a rural health care system. When you have eight people per square mile, you see a different kind of medicine,” she says. Weekly four-hour driving excursions to see specialists, added to trips of 15 minutes to get to family practitioners, showed her family how complex health care in a non-urban setting can be.

Blake Alberts, who plans to return to South Dakota to practice medicine, turned down a seat at the University of South Dakota’s medical school to join the inaugural class of the Columbia-Bassett Program. A premed clinical rotation at Baylor College of Medicine made him wonder what other medical schools beyond South Dakota could offer. In the Columbia-Bassett Program, Mr. Alberts sees an opportunity to attend a top medical school and see medical care delivery in a hospital with a mission similar to South Dakota hospitals.

“Bassett has the same mission but is 180 degrees opposite in how it approaches health care,” says Mr. Alberts. “That’s the biggest thing I’m excited about: Being able to see a different approach to health care is invaluable.”

The first 10 students in the program, five women and five men, represent seven states (Arizona, California, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, and South Dakota) and are graduates of nine colleges (University of South Dakota, University of Arizona, Hamilton College, Dartmouth College, Harvard College, University of Kansas, Cornell University, State University of New York at Geneseo, and Williams College). They studied biology, chemistry, mechanical engineering, neurobiology, religion, history, and economics.

While some medical schools excel at preparing primary care physicians and others are known for preparing specialists, few have tried to do both in a combined urban-rural setting.

“This innovative new campus may be the demonstration model for a much-needed new paradigm, which will catalyze care that is at once safer and less costly and inspire other medical schools to emulate and improve upon our example,” says Lee Goldman, M.D., executive vice president for health and biomedical sciences and dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine at Columbia.


Adapted from an article in the Winter/Spring 2010 issue of P&S Journal, the magazine of the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons.

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