Vt. med school breeds lo­cal docs

The News-Times (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Rob Ryser

DAN­BURY — It’s the big­gest tran­si­tion most med­i­cal stu­dents will ever make — the year they leave the class­room for their hos­pi­tal ro­ta­tions — but Har­ris Syed seems to be adapt­ing to the 12-hour days, and the 80-hour work week.

“The days are long, but the year is short,” said Syed, 26, a third-year stu­dent from the Univer­sity of Ver­mont’s Larner Col­lege of Medicine, who ar­rived here in March to com­plete the clin­i­cal part of his med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion at the Western Con­necti­cut Health Net­work branch cam­pus. “But it re­ally does feel like a long time ago.”

For Syed and his class­mates from Ver­mont, who see the Western Con­necti­cut Health Net­work’s hos­pi­tals in Dan­bury, Norwalk and New Mil­ford as their prov­ing ground, the big ad­just­ment year co­in­cides with a time of growth for the emerg­ing med­i­cal school cam­pus here, which was ap­proved by the state Of­fice of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion less than two years ago.

“Start­ing in March of 2020, we will have 35 stu­dents ded­i­cated to liv­ing in this area and com­plet­ing their clin­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion here.” Dr. Jonathan Rosen, over­seer of the Con­necti­cut Health Net­work branch cam­pus

“Ev­ery month we are try­ing to take on more of what con­sti­tutes the whole third year at the Univer­sity of Ver­mont,” says Dr. Jonathan Rosen, the health net­work’s di­rec­tor of un­der­grad­u­ate med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and a dean at Larner Col­lege of Medicine, who over­sees the Con­necti­cut branch cam­pus. “Start­ing in March of 2020, we will have con­cluded that tran­si­tion, so in­stead of hav­ing just a handful of stu­dents who elect to spend their whole third and fourth year here, we will have 35 stu­dents ded­i­cated to liv­ing in this area and com­plet­ing their clin­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion here.”

If it seems com­pli­cated that a lo­cal health net­work is co­or­di­nat­ing the im­por­tant clin­i­cal por­tion of a de­gree pro­gram for a med­i­cal col­lege 290 miles away in Ver­mont, per­haps it is. But it is not un­usual.

Across the coun­try, scores of med­i­cal col­leges have for­mal con­nec­tions to teach­ing hos­pi­tals, where stu­dents such as Syed get ex­pe­ri­ence treat­ing pa­tients in the ma­jor spe­cial­ties of medicine by join­ing physi­cian teams in hos­pi­tals.

The idea to es­tab­lish a WCHN branch cam­pus was ap­peal­ing to the Univer­sity of Ver­mont be­cause the mix of peo­ple in western Con­necti­cut is so much more di­verse eco­nom­i­cally and eth­ni­cally than in Burling­ton, Vt. – a city of 42,000 where 87 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is white.

“You don’t want to be ex­posed to just this nar­row kind of group,” said Syed, who wants to prac­tice fam­ily sports medicine. “You want the broad­est ex­pe­ri­ence pos­si­ble so that when you go into prac­tice and you are re­spon­si­ble for your­self, you can lean back on your ex­pe­ri­ence and say, ‘This is how it went this time, this is how I want to ad­just it to make it bet­ter the next time.’”

Rosen agrees. “Fair­field County is a place of tremen­dous wealth and ac­cess at one ex­treme, at the other ex­treme in Norwalk and Dan­bury, you have peo­ple at the op­po­site end of the so­cial spec­trum,” Rosen said. “Fair­field County has the com­plete range of the way peo­ple in­ter­act with the health care sys­tem.”

Green Moun­tain State of mind

Even be­fore the Con­necti­cut cam­pus was ap­proved by the state gov­ern­ment in 2017, the Ver­mont med­i­cal col­lege had been send­ing stu­dents to Dan­bury Hos­pi­tal and other net­work sites for ro­ta­tions on an in­for­mal ba­sis.

When the med­i­cal col­lege was look­ing for a for­mal ar­range­ment with a teach­ing hos­pi­tal, the Western Con­necti­cut Health Net­work was the only one in Con­necti­cut that had enough open slots for a class of stu­dents.

And what was in the deal for the health net­work?

Aside from the re­search syn­ergy that col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween med­i­cal col­leges and teach­ing hos­pi­tals pro­duce, there is a short­age of gen­eral prac­ti­tion­ers in Con­necti­cut and across the coun­try.

Since Ver­mont grad­u­ates more pri­mary health care prac­ti­tion­ers than other schools, WCHN’s hope is to be­come a farm sys­tem for in-de­mand doc­tors.

The growth of the branch cam­pus at WCHN is com­ing at the same time as a merger with a sim­i­larly sized health net­work in New York, which would cre­ate a $4 bil­lion med­i­cal sys­tem stretch­ing from Long Is­land Sound to the Hud­son River.

“Hope­fully stu­dents like Har­ris will stay as a prac­ti­tioner in the com­mu­nity af­ter grad­u­a­tion,” said An­drea Rynn, a WCHN spokes­woman.

It’s cer­tainly a pos­si­bil­ity. One of the rea­sons Syed chose to do his clin­i­cal work in Con­necti­cut is he grew up 65 miles away in New Mil­ford, N.J., he said.

Syed’s in­ter­est in medicine stems from his ap­ti­tude for the sciences and the ex­am­ple of his mother, who is a pe­di­a­tri­cian. As such, he says he un­der­stands there is more to medicine than un­der­stand­ing dis­ease pro­cesses.

One of the most im­por­tant things he is learn­ing in Dan­bury, he said, is bed­side man­ner.

“I can have a con­ver­sa­tion with an­other doc­tor about a dis­ease to un­der­stand the phys­i­ol­ogy be­hind it, but when I get to the bed­side, the pa­tient might not be in­ter­ested in that, and might just want to feel bet­ter,” Syed said. “We need to come across the right way and make sure we have the pa­tient’s best in­ter­est at heart.”

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Third year med­i­cal stu­dents Har­ris Syed, cen­ter, and Florence Lam­bert, right, from the Larner Col­lege of Medicine at The Univer­sity of Ver­mont, work with a stan­dard­ized pa­tient Feli­cia Michael in the Spratt Cen­ter for Sim­u­la­tion and Clin­i­cal Learn­ing at Dan­bury Hos­pi­tal as part of their train­ing at the hos­pi­tal on Thurs­day.

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