P&S Journal: Fall 1994, Vol.14, No.3
Student Succeess Network: Taking the Edge Off
By Jodi Godfrey Meiser
Underestimating the demands of medical school is typical of first-year students. They have the aptitude to succeed but often lack the study skills needed to master the massive quantity of material, says Dr. Herbert Chase, associate professor of clinical medicine, who directs the comprehensive interdisciplinary course, Science Basic to the Practice of Medicine. Many students arrive at P&S thinking "I got into Columbia so I can handle it," but the strategies needed to do well in college are not sufficient for the medical school course load.
Students needing help were directed to a tutor until 1991, when the high number of students affected resulted in the formation of a program now known as the Student Success Network. The peer-support program is modeled after the Medical Scholars Program that Dr. Mindy Fullilove'78, associate professor of clinical psychiatry, directed at the University of California at San Francisco. When Dr. Chase, a member of the curriculum revision committee, expressed concern about the impact of the new curriculum's interdisciplinary format and problem-solving exams on students, he worked with Dr. Fullilove to integrate the Student Success Network into the Science Basic to the Practice of Medicine course modules.
The program's leaders are second-year students who organize study groups, devise work sheets, and give practice exams. Having recently been through the first-year experience, second-year students know the stumbling blocks and can help focus the material-a challenge when first-year students are overwhelmed by the volume of information to be learned.
"The workshops provide a formal structure that gets students in different classes interacting and puts first-year students in touch with peers who made it through," says Kristen Graves'95. "Since I took off a few years before coming to medical school, I found the interaction with others extremely helpful and working in groups taught me a new way to learn and better study skills."
James Woody'96 remembers struggling through his first-year courses, particularly biochemistry, and looking for anything that might help him. "SSN helped me to organize the material and to zero in on the key concepts," he says. Students with a good grasp of the material were able to help classmates master the information and, in the process, reinforce their own knowledge.
"Working in groups allowed me to pull back from the minutiae and focus on the meaningful concepts and key points," says Elizabeth Ross'96, student director for the 1993-94 program.
"There's no better way to get a grasp on what you know and what you don't know than to work in a group," says Mr. Woody.
The Student Success Network also offers a tutorial service to help students with difficulties reach their full potential.