Interested in a non-traditional medical path? How about considering a medical program that completely integrates engineering into its curriculum? Carle Illinois College of Medicine might be the right choice for you!
Interview with Dr. Nora Few and Dr. William Pluta [Show Summary]
Dr. Nora Few and Dr. William Pluta discuss the highly innovative and multi-disciplinary curriculum at the Carle Illinois College Medicine. This fairly new medical school took advantage of the opportunity to design its curriculum from the ground up and integrates engineering and medicine throughout. In this interview we gain insight into the program as well as Carle Illinois’ pioneering approach to medical school admissions.
Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s Unique Curriculum and Approach to Admissions [Show Notes]
Our guests today are Dr. Nora Few and Dr. William Pluta. Dr. Few, who earned her Ph.D. in Health Behavior, has been with the University of Illinois since 1990, including 15 years at the UIC College of Medicine. She became the Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s first Director of Admissions in 2017 and managed the enrollment of its first class in 2018.
Dr. Will Pluta earned his PhD in Educational Psychology at Rutgers University in 2015. From 2012-2015 he worked at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons as an Education, Assessment, and Evaluation Specialist. He then headed to Georgetown Medical for a year as Assistant Dean for Assessment and has been Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s first Director of Curriculum since 2017.
Dr. Pluta, can you give us an overview of the Carle Illinois med school program? [2:34]
It is a four-year curriculum that leads to an MD degree, with a focus on engineering and innovation across the curriculum. We emphasize the development of competent and caring patient-centered physicians. It is a 3-phase program. The first is basic science with engineering built in, introduction to systems and early clinical exposure. The second phase is built around clerkships, with time for electives early on to explore interests, and students are encouraged through the IDEA course to generate innovative ideas to impact healthcare. The third phase has the relatively standard electives around medicine – with the opportunity to specialize, and students are expected to complete a capstone project and data science project.
Why combine the teaching of medicine with engineering? [4:51]
Engineering has the emphasis on technology, and that is where we see the real opportunity to move medicine forward.
What is the IDEA course? [5:21]
IDEA stands for Innovation, Design, Engineering and Application, and is a year-long course integrated into the core clerkship period of the curriculum. On Friday afternoons students come together and talk about the challenges they are seeing in their clerkships and work on solutions. Engineering rounds are incorporated with rounds, where an engineer from our faculty will help students think about problems in different ways to promote innovation.
The Carle Illinois website says it has a “Paradigm-shifting Curriculum.” How so? [6:47]
The critical part is that engineering is built into every part of the program. The emphasis on technology is all part of our mission. We are different in that we have integrated these two subjects from the very beginning.
The Carle Illinois Site discuss 4 pillars of its curriculum basic sciences, clinical sciences, engineering and innovation, and medical humanities. Basic and clinical sciences are taught in all med schools. Engineering and innovation are distinctive at Carle Illinois, but including medical humanities as one of the pillars of your curriculum means that Carle Illinois expects it students to use the right side of the brain as well as the left. What is “medical humanities” at Carle Illinois? What role does it play and how is it as important as the other 3 pillars? [8:31]
It is critical in how technology helps physicians interact with patients. It allows more time to interact with patients in a humanistic way, and the ability to have more information and better interact with patients. It involves the core ethics about making decisions – so thinking about things like whether or not we are implementing new technologies in the right kinds of ways aligned with our value system. Innovation doesn’t have to mean a gadget – we want our students to take their innovative brain to solve all sorts of problems.
Can you discuss the different phases of the curriculum? [11:50]
Phase 1 is the traditional pre-clerk period, which is organs-based and built around problem-based learning. Patient cases are presented each week and drive learning in a relatively independent way. We are not pure problem-based learning, as we do supplement with lectures if there is content that is particularly difficult or as well-aligned with the case for that week. One thing I should emphasize is that courses are developed as a team, which includes one physician, one basic scientist, and one engineer, which is a great way to put courses together. The second part of phase 1 is the clinical component – the Physical Diagnosis course. They also have mentor physicians that they can practice the skills with and interact with patients in a meaningful way.
What are the threads in the Carle Illinois curriculum? [15:47]
The threads are the content that spans the entire curriculum – the gorilla threads are engineering and medical ethics and humanities. We pay special attention to these two threads across all four years. The other threads are the basic science content – we have thread directors to make sure anatomy, genetics, pathology, and physiology are covered – and they are checking in to make sure we integrate the balance. For the ethics thread, we have been so fortunate to have started this from the beginning – it is not an add-on. We bring up ethical issues that could be part of or a tangential part of a case, and have weekly discussions on end of life care.
What is the Wellness program for Carle Illinois students? [19:49]
We want wellness to be an integrated part of what we do, so we have an hour set aside for wellness every single week and try to integrate it into all activities. We encourage students to take advantage of everything on campus. Our wellness wheel has nine areas that are particularly focused on what we think are important. Each category is very comprehensive and tries to focus all of that on the student. When we have the weekly event it is called Thrive, and is designed primarily by students. The events focus on one of five themes.
Sign me up! How do I get in, Dr. Few? How is the application process at Carle Illinois different due to its unique focus? [24:17]
We are looking for a somewhat different profile, and I do think we are looking for more but also for a different balance. In thinking about the admissions process, we thought about what we each had experienced doing admissions from other colleges of medicine. It was the perfect opportunity to start fresh and do what we wanted. We had to choose students who would be successful here – which means looking closely at many of the same characteristics as any other medical school, although we do emphasize things differently. They need to take an MCAT, have certain competencies in their academic background, and innovative ways of looking at life and medicine. We are very committed to doing a holistic review. We wanted to be really careful to truly measure things we thought we were measuring. It was a good opportunity to see if a particular test means a student will be a better physician or is it just an excuse for a metric. We worked hard on rubrics – when faculty are doing holistic reviews, some things are not always well-defined, so we thought about what we were looking for, and what in each of the categories of the MCAT could say something about what we considered an acceptable baseline, what was something better, and what was something outstanding. We also wanted to be very careful of bias, and MCAT scores can bias reviewers, so our reviewers do not know the MCAT score in the first round. They can see the transcript but not necessarily the GPA. We also consider MCAT/GPA to be important but less so than most schools do. For us that is only 50% of the decision which is much less than most medical schools.
What is your secondary application like? [30:04]
We do not do essays, but instead do a portfolio which is reflective of our values as a school. It is a show and tell for adults, so to speak, so we ask students to think about three of our values – compassion, curiosity, and creativity. We would like you to present us with an “artifact” – an 8 ½ x 11 sheet that can be printed with no links, is as simple as possible, and with up to 250 words to talk about the three competencies. People present a collage, some write poetry, some write a graphic novel moving from one to another. There is no right way to do it, but what I often say to students is that I just want you to go back to how you thought about show and tell in elementary school. Were you worried about what the teacher wanted? No, you showed what you wanted to show, so be true to yourself.
We also ask students to evaluate their competencies. Most people know listening to this that if you say in a medical school that something is a required course then I as an admissions person must enforce that. I must only admit people who have taken that required course. With our unique program we needed to have more flexibility. We wanted to make it easier for people to become competent in the things we wanted them to be competent in. The suggested courses will be all those that most med schools have, but in addition to that, our applicants should show competencies in different areas. While we don’t necessarily expect engineers to come to our program, we do expect our applicants to show us competency in some specific engineering-focused principles. Courses don’t have to be taken at your university – it could be a summer course, online course, etc., and doesn’t have to be something on your transcript.
What can applicants invited to interview expect? [39:02]
We do have a video interview and a set of five questions focused on other values that Carle Illinois has. Students don’t get the questions well ahead of time, so we are evaluating how they operate under pressure, and how well they can think on their feet. They can log in when they feel ready to do this experience, are given the questions, and have five minutes to think about their answers. They can take notes but when the five minutes are up the recording will start, with six minutes to answer the questions. The first year we gave two attempts and it was obvious the second time there were scripted responses, so generally now we only offer one attempt.
As far as a “traditional” interview we don’t do that. Partly this happened out of necessity as we didn’t yet have our accreditation so we couldn’t make a decision, but we looked at the experiences of other schools and were able to see that the interview does not give the medical school much if any information at all. We are not making different decisions in almost all cases, and interviews are also very biased, and we are committed to making things as free of bias as we can.
We decided that the thing that was good about a traditional interview day was the opportunity to come and see us. We call ours showcases, and they are day long events by invitation only (after faculty have evaluated and read an application and we have a good idea of how the applicant will stand). Candidates will do a good bit of listening as we talk to them about our clinical integration, patient impact, and how the IDEA project can help with patient impact. We have student affairs talk to them, let them see the SIM lab, they have lunch with current students and faculty, we talk to them about the wellness program, and perhaps most interesting are break-out sessions in the afternoon where each student will have a time where they go with their group to the hospital, then another time to meet in a group of about 10 with trained facilitators who do a short problem-based learning case to see what it would really be like to be learning in this way.
Do the questions posed in the video interview reflect the problem-based learning approach? [47:13]
I don’t want to give too much away, but two other really important values are diversity and evaluation, and we also do a lot of behavioral type questions. “Tell us about a time when you…..”
Are you evaluating the applicants on the showcase days? [48:23]
Not really at this time. It is something we may incorporate in the future.
How has the first year gone? [48:38]
We are really pleased with how it’s going. Students are really engaged. Of course there are always kinks in the first year, but students are getting an amazing clinical experience they can’t get anywhere else. The amount of clinical exposure is phenomenal and we get love notes from physicians they are paired with saying our students really helped with a problem with whatever skills they brought to the table. We are very pleased with how the students are progressing.
What has surprised you most about the first year? [50:59]
We weren’t sure what we were going to get from these students, who will these engineering physicians turn out to be? They are more patient-centered and humanistic than one stereotypically would have thought.
What advice do you have for applicants interested in applying to Carle Illinois in the upcoming 2019-20 application cycle? [52:20]
It does really help your application to have the competencies. You don’t have to take the full blown expensive university course – you can do it in a more efficient, less expensive way.
I do want to give a reminder that at this time until we have graduated our first class we are restricted in that we can only accept students who are permanent residents and U.S. citizens. We have no preference for Illinois residents.
You need a 498 or more on the MCAT. We want to level the playing field as much as we can to make sure there isn’t a great advantage for someone who has the advantage of taking the exam many times so if someone has taken the exam twice we use the highest score. If you have three or more scores we use an average of the three, so think about when you will take it.
Think seriously about whether problem-based learning as a way of learning is good for them – that’s where showcases are really helpful for that. Also, does the mission speak to you.
Finally, we will have early decision for 2020.
What about those planning to apply in future years? What should they be doing? [56:11]
Shout out to pre-health advisors – you should be talking to them! I would suggest students go to the AAMC website and look at the model online which is the Experiences Attributes Metrics Model, which we are absolutely using. If you see a big gap there think about it. Take your MCAT 18 months before enrolling, and think about the competencies.
What would you have liked me to ask you that I haven’t asked? [57:55]
Not a question, but something I want to share – we have five webinars on the admissions website which could be really helpful to the students in all areas that are critical to us.
• Texas A&M’s EnMed: Combining Medicine, Engineering and Innovation
• Get Into University of Washington Medical School
• All About Duke Medical School’s Unique Curriculum and How to Get In
• Why Should Medical School Take Four Years?