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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Fort Worth M.D. school begins and city hopes to reap benefits

It’s open.

Sixty students have arrived to begin classes at TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine, the nation’s newest and Fort Worth’s only M.D. school.

Two Fort Worth higher education institutions came together to form the institution, when it became apparent the state was not in a position to fund such a program.

The school is new in more ways than one. The sequential M.D. school is looking to divert from the age-old techniques used in teaching medicine.

The school integrates medicine and humanities, two distinct disciplines, into its curriculum. The focus is on “compassionate practice,” a trademarked term.

After roughly three years of planning, 60 students representing the school’s inaugural class arrived the week of July 6 to start off their medical careers.

On July 10, the students got a taste of what’s in store for them when classes officially begin Monday, July 15.

The school held an orientation class that introduced the concept of “compassionate practice,” in an academic setting.

Students were encouraged to speak out and raise questions. They did. There were several poem recitals, occasional fist pumps, a few hugs and a lot of laughter echoing around the classroom hall at TCU campus.

The instructors resolved that healthcare professionals need to have a level of empathy and skills to communicate effectively with their patients.

“Every encounter is a different encounter that [students] need to rethink about who they’re talking to and who they are, in order to connect with compassion,” said Evonne Kaplan-Liss, assistant dean of narrative reflection and patient communication.

Kaplan-Liss pointed to scientifically-backed research that suggested doctors listening to patients and showing at least 40 seconds of compassion can save a life.

But, a tiny number of physicians actually show compassion, care and communicate effectively with their patients, she said.

“We know there’s a problem, and there aren’t many solutions,” Kaplan-Liss said. “What we’re doing here is offering a solution with our curriculum.”

Designed to address the needs of future physicians, the four-year program is built around ten specific themes, like ethics, population health, gerontology, healthcare policy and advocacy.

The school offers physician development coaches, advanced technological tools, a specially designed longitudinal integrated clerkship to make sure the students become qualified physicians.

However, the idea is to develop a new breed of physicians, who are able to capture the human element in their medical diagnosis.

Because all patients are human, human behaviors can determine the medical outcomes, said Chase Crossno, assistant artistic director at the medical school, who will teach psychological and behavioral science to the students.

“All of the tremendous scientific acumen and brilliance is wonderful and incredible, but it’s not going to be tremendously helpful if you can’t engage with a patient,” Crossno said. “So, a part of what this school does – and sort-of this movement around the country is – is to help bridge that gap between the scientific understanding and the human touch.”

Incoming to the one-of-its-kind school of medicine, the new student body is also diverse in itself.

Out of the 60 total students, 58% fall under one or more school-defined diversity domains. Twenty percent of the class self-identifies as African American or Hispanic.

Representing 60% of the student population, women outnumber men.

The students come from 17 different states, excluding Texas, and have bachelor’s degrees from 34 different universities.

Kyle Schneider, one of the new students, said he has a good feeling about this new beginning in his life.

“It’s not a joke, it’s still going to be hard,” Schneider said. “But the school is not here to break you down and turn you into a robot. They’re like, ‘we want you to be good, empathetic, caring doctors.’ And, part of that is not just crushing your soul with facts and dark library corners.”

Schneider’s family live about 20 hours away in Provo, Utah. He came to Texas for the first time and is looking forward to the warmer weather and similar warm and friendly environment.

“I’ve lived in a lot of different places in life,” Schneider said. “I might only have been in Texas for 72 hours now, but I like what I’ve seen so far. I would love to stay here.”

And, that – retention of skilled healthcare professionals – is what city leaders are hoping to get out of the medical school.

According to the school of medicine’s estimates, by 2030, the nation will experience a shortage of more than 120,000 clinicians.

“As we grow, everybody needs more physicians in the community,” Mayor Betsy Price told the Business Press. “Hopefully, when you train them here, you have intern, residency, many of them will stay where they do those practices.”

The TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine has built a commendable workforce of its own already.

About 150 faculty and about 100 staff currently work at the school, according to the school. More part-time and full-time employees will fill in various positions over the years.

As part of the longitudinal integrated clerkship, a mentorship program, about 500 practicing physicians from the local community will also provide students first-hand medical experiences.

Some physicians are expected to offer their services voluntarily, however, there are plans to provide some form of benefits and/or reimbursements.

“The med school has professors, adjunct professors all of whom are living in our community, many doing research,” Price said. “When you add a med school, that means you attract more medical companies, pharmaceutical companies, who want to do research. And all of those are a big boost to our economy.”

The boost from the school, according to a Tripp Umbach economic impact study, is estimated to be about $4 billion annually, starting in 2030.

The study also suggests the school will likely generate 31,200 jobs in 11 years’ time.

“We love being a part of this community,” said Stuart Flynn, dean of the School of Medicine. “And it’s my promise that this medical school will be a valued part of the Fort Worth and the North Texas fabric.”

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Neetish Basnet
Neetish is a writer and digital content producer for Fort Worth Business Press. He has been covering businesses of all shapes and sizes in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex for several years. After graduating with a journalism degree from University of Texas-Arlington, Dow Jones News Fund selected him for a digital media fellowship. He still likes the smell of a freshly printed newspaper.

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