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Fairview Hospital, Magnificat partner in program for students pondering medical careers

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DIAGNOSIS? – Dr. Neil Smith and Magnificat students participating in Medical Explorations. (Photo, Cleveland Clinic)

By Sue Botos

Sometimes, students may shy away from a career in medicine due to a fear of required math and science classes. But according to Neil Smith, D.O., president of Fairview Hospital, the field is more about creative problem-solving than facts and figures.

He is now sharing this idea with high school students through what he calls the Medical Explorations course. It was piloted at St. Ignatius High School and St. Joseph Academy last year. Success at those schools led Smith to expand the six-week course to Magnificat early this year.

“I’ve always thought about this kind of program, because when I went to high school, I really didn’t like sciences much at all,” Smith said in a recent interview. “I liked history and English and philosophy and things like that. But what I found (to succeed in medicine) was that you didn’t really have to excel in chemistry, but you had to have an inquisitive mind.”

A patient’s symptoms, said Smith, are like puzzle pieces that, when fit together, form a diagnosis. He recalled that when instructing residents at Fairview Hospital, he presented case studies as a type of game he called “What’s the Diagnosis?”

“I decided it would be really helpful for high school students, who had no interest in medicine whatsoever, to be exposed to this differential diagnosis class to see that it really had nothing to do with chemistry or biology. But it really had to do with getting these clues and figuring out what the diagnosis was.”

Smith noted that as an internist, he is required to take a board exam every 10 years, which includes a packet of about 500 case studies. He pulled out several he thought were interesting and obscure, and formulated the Medical Exploration program.

At Magnificat, groups of about 50 students were divided into teams of five or six and each given a case to diagnose. During his presentations at the school, he would give clues such as patient complaints, vital signs, lab and test results. But just as in real life, Smith said he threw in a few irrelevant facts in an attempt to throw the students off.

Smith reported that by week three, two teams had the correct diagnosis, and by the end of the program, all solved their case. “It cost me some money because they all got it right,” said Smith, noting that winning team members received Chipotle gift cards.

“It was a shock. I was absolutely shocked they all came up with the correct diagnosis,” said Smith, adding that thanks to research at their fingertips in the form of iPhones, the students now have an advantage he did not have.

“For me, it would take hours to dig through a 600-page medical book to find that one sentence. They have that instantaneously on their iPhone.”

The role of teamwork in medicine was something brought home to some students. “The thing I liked the most was working together with my team to figure out the diagnosis. It put both my medical skills and leadership to the test,” stated Grace Bauer, class of 2020. “My biggest takeaway from the experience was proving to myself that I can work in the medical field if I put my mind to it.”

“I really loved how this was such an interactive program,” added Grace Spear, class of 2018. “I was not expecting that aspect.”

Maeve Slife, also class of 2018, appreciated the puzzle-solving aspect. “It was amazing to me to learn about how even the smallest differentiation in a patient’s vitals can greatly impact their health, both physical and mental.”

“This program was also challenging because some of the information on the patient fit many different diagnoses and you really had to dig deep into each option,” stated Claire Martin, class of 2020. “I felt like a real doctor when my group and I were able to reach the right diagnosis.”

Smith, who said he hopes to expand the program, said the students aren’t the only beneficiaries. “It’s always fun to talk to young people. They’re so optimistic and enthusiastic, and they so want to go out there and help. It takes me back to why I became a doctor.”

 

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