Impassioned and informative, Dr. Rudolph Leibel captivated a group of congressional staff members who visited his laboratory at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center late last month. The professor of pediatrics and medicine and co-director of the center explained how obesity in our young is reaching epidemic proportions, leading to increased cases of type 2 diabetes in children. Bioscience urgently needs to address this problem, he told the assembled group.
His warning of the looming public health burden from obesity-induced childhood diabetes was one of the stops on a tour for 12 congressional staff members who visited the Washington Heights and Morningside Heights Columbia campuses and Harlem Hospital Center as part of Project Medical Education. Run by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the program teaches congressional staff about medical schools, the benefits they provide, and their funding needs.
After being accepted to medical school, the attendees took an oath and received short white coats, which they wore during their March 25 and March 26 visit to simulate being a medical student. They met with Dr. Gerald Fischbach, executive vice president and dean, Dr. Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, professors, and medical students to discuss a wide range of issues. Topics included stem cell research, nursing and technician shortages, NIH research budget concerns, the challenges posed by new government regulations on patient privacy, and decreased reimbursement to providers for medical services.
The students got a sense of the extensive curriculum of a medical student and then sampled the educational experience at P&S. They listened to pulses in Harvey, a model that simulates the human circulation system. Dr. Stephan Mayer, associate professor of clinical neurology (in neurological surgery), lectured them in a neurosurgery class on the repair of brain aneurysms. They were exposed to the Health Sciences Library electronic curriculum, which includes images from anatomy, histology, and pathology; study guides; and tests of knowledge of the subjects.
The participants visited the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, a facility dedicated to state-of-the-art cancer research and clinical care; the Audubon Biomedical Science and Technology Park, a technology incubator; and Harlem Hospital Center, where they observed the emergency room and the neonatal intensive care unit.
The tour of the Audubon Center and talks with officials from Columbias Science and Technology Ventures, the universitys technology transfer office, focused on how the Health Sciences campus contributes to job creation and economic development through start-up companies and technology licensing.
Because the staff members deal with congressional healthcare issues, they were particularly interested in research funding and other financial matters. In the labs, researchers talked about the expense of high-tech equipment needed today, for example, to do genetic research. Dr. Richard Sohn, director of grants and contracts and associate dean for research administration in P&S, told the students about the difficulties young investigators have in getting funding early in their career and the regulatory procedures universities and researchers follow to get federal funding.
Helen Drury, assistant vice president and assistant dean for clinical operations, addressed the devastating effect that planned Medicare physician payment cuts will have on medical schools.
At the end of the whirlwind tour, some of the congressional staff commented on the value of their time at Columbia. This trip gave us the opportunity to meet so that when hospitals and medical students have issues, we [congressional staff] can work on them together, said Joanne Rising, legislative counsel for Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.
I think it is fair to say that all 12 students found their time at Columbia both interesting and educational, said Ross Frommer, deputy vice president for government and community affairs. I think they also had a lot of fun. Hopefully, they took from this experience a greater appreciation of the many issues facing academic medical centers.