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A trusted adviser and understanding peers can be invaluable for a student during the pursuit of an advanced degree.

To address students' need for advice and foster a tighter student community, two Columbia University Health Sciences schools are instituting new programs. The College of Physicians & Surgeons has created five new student affairs assistant dean positions for faculty members to serve as advisers to students. The School of Dental and Oral Surgery has formed four societies to increase student and faculty interaction.

The School of Nursing already has in place successful programs that use faculty advisers and deans to guide students. Supplementing existing faculty advisement, the Mailman School of Public Health has created an academic and personal advising team of four professional staff members who provide students with confidential advising when issues emerge that impact their academic performance or progress.

New P&S Assistant Deans

P&S has had faculty members act as student advisers for years, but they had volunteered their time. As the practice of medicine has become more demanding and time-consuming, professors have had less time to spend with students—and students have expressed dissatisfaction in evaluations with the amount of mentoring they receive from faculty advisers. Also, during the past six or seven years, other top American medical schools updated their advisory systems and began paying advisory deans.

After evaluating what worked best at other schools, the P&S administration now is offering additional salary in exchange for 10 hours a week of time spent with students, says Dr. Linda D. Lewis, clinical professor of neurology and senior associate dean for student affairs at P&S. The new assistant dean positions, which will begin in the middle of 2003, require a five-year commitment by faculty members. The posts are open to P&S faculty with demonstrated interest in medical students' professional development. P&S will train the faculty chosen to fill the positions.

"The assistant deans will enhance the students' experiences from admission through graduation, supporting their academic progress, providing advice on third-year schedules and fourth-year elective selection, and guiding career decisions," Dr. Lewis says.

Each advisory dean eventually will be responsible for 20 percent (about 30 students) of each P&S class, which means they will advise a total of about 120 students. The deans are required to meet for a meal with the group of first-year students once a week; second-year students once every two weeks; and third- and fourth-year students once a month. There also will be regular meetings of the entire group of 120 students and meetings with individual students as needed. The assistant deans will attend weekly meetings with faculty and staff of the P&S administration from the student, curricular, minority, and financial affairs offices.

SDOS Forms Professional Societies

The dental school's administration also recognized that its students wanted more contact with other students and faculty, especially outside the classroom and clinic. "As an urban school, we benefit from the resources of Columbia and New York City but social interaction can be difficult for our students when there is no common activity to bring them together on a regular basis," says Dr. Ira B. Lamster, SDOS dean.

The formation of the four professional societies should enhance communication, as each group will include pre- and postdoctoral students and faculty. Students and faculty will be randomly assigned to one society, which will meet "for purely social reasons" three times each year, beginning in Spring 2003, Dr. Lamster says. Students soon will receive notices about their group assignments. The initial meetings will be in the Faculty Club and may shift off campus.

Dr. Albert Thompson, assistant clinical professor of dentistry, is the senior faculty adviser for the four societies. Each group has three to four faculty leaders and four predoctoral student leaders—one student from each year of study.

Each society is named after individuals who made important contributions to the dental school's early history in the 1920s: Dr. Charles Bodecker, a prominent dental researcher; Dr. A. Elizabeth Delany, one of the first African American graduates of SDOS; Dr. William Dunning, a founder of the school; and Dr. Alfred Owre, an academic innovator and former SDOS dean.

Dr. Lamster, who is unaware whether other dental schools have similar societies, hopes to help students feel connected to SDOS, even after they graduate. "We want students to view the school in a positive light when they leave to start their careers," he says. "We're looking to improve the entire four-year experience."


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