Students study while on the WVSOM campus

WVSOM to implement new ‘Finding Health’ curriculum this summer

Medical schools are expected to provide students the highest quality of education while fostering a positive educational environment. 

In order to meet its mission and vision, and to foster a culture of wellness and resilience for its students, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) is making enhancements to its curriculum. The changes, which will be implemented in July 2024 for students in the Class of 2028, will create a more learner-centered experience, foster independent learning and prepare graduates to become outstanding osteopathic physicians.  

The new “Finding Health” curriculum, which incorporates wellness, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and preventive medicine, is named for a quote by A.T. Still, D.O., the founder of osteopathic medicine, that states: “To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.”

Under the new curriculum, students will spend their first two years at WVSOM completing eight organ system-based course blocks along with two integrated longitudinal courses — Clinical Skills and Osteopathic Principles and Practice — and two curricular threads. Each course will provide an integrated review of normal human structure and function followed by the clinical presentation and underlying mechanism of disease and available treatments. Health and Wellness, as well as Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) threads will be incorporated into all courses. 

Courses will balance guided independent learning activities with in-class activities, hands-on labs, “putting it all together” sessions, medical simulation and standardized patient and virtual reality encounters where students apply what they have learned.

When Linda Boyd, D.O., vice president for academic affairs and dean and chief academic officer, joined WVSOM in 2021, she shared her belief that administrators can’t make medical school easier but they can make it kinder and gentler. That was the impetus for the development of a new curriculum. 

Boyd said that while the new curriculum will change WVSOM’s approach to medical education, offering a more realistic schedule with more breaks to help promote students’ mental health, the quality of the education will not waver.

“We need to produce doctors who are as humane, altruistic and caring as when they walked in the door and not burn them out while they’re in medical school. We want to keep those ideals intact and nurture and grow them rather than extinguish them,” Boyd said. 

According to Predrag Krajacic, M.D., WVSOM’s assistant dean for curricular affairs, 2023 marked 10 years since WVSOM’s last substantial curricular change. 

Administrators and faculty want to place more focus on the physical and mental health of WVSOM students in order to decrease the burnout that can accompany rigorous study. 

“We don’t just want to teach wellness so our students carry that to their future patients,” Krajacic said. “We want to practice what we teach. We want students to be well and take care of themselves so they can deliver that care to their patients.”

WVSOM’s Clinical Evaluation Center is where students begin to learn the importance of effective communication, teamwork and clinical decision making through medical simulations utilizing standardized patients, medical simulators and virtual reality. Additionally, a robust point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) curriculum is integrated into all courses.

Health and wellness became an important issue for Boyd when she was a physician treating patients who happened to be burned-out medical students. She said that for years she has watched young, smart and caring medical students become disillusioned by the demands of their education. 

“We need to provide support, care and mentorship along the way, as well as teach students how to maintain balance, health and wellness throughout their training. It is also important to build breaks into the schedule to allow students to decompress, rest and reinvigorate themselves periodically so they can keep up with the rigorous training,” she said. 

The new curriculum will afford students a one-week break after each course block. All course exams will take place on Fridays, so that students can have what is referred to as a “golden weekend,” free from studying. 

The academic schedule is intended to provide sufficient time for WVSOM students to thrive in an active learning environment. Monday through Thursday mornings will be dedicated to didactic sessions, while afternoons will be free for studying or for extracurricular interests. Fridays when no exams are scheduled will be reserved for medical simulation, small-group activities, POCUS or other active learning activities. 

WVSOM is the leading producer of physicians for the state, said WVSOM President James W. Nemitz, Ph.D. It’s important that the institution review and re-evaluate the education it provides, he said. 

“A quality health care delivery system is essential for the continued well-being and prosperity of West Virginia,” he said. “In order to offer that, you have to take care of your students. Medical students are pretty robust; they’re strong and competitive, but they need nurturing and care just like everybody else. WVSOM creates an environment where students can be successful and ultimately serve as physicians in communities throughout the state and throughout Appalachia.”

Boyd has turned her interest in students’ mental health into a reality. 

“Medical students need support from their family and friends, and support from their school,” she said. “Of course you need some level of internal resilience as a medical student, which develops with the hard knocks you have had in life — some people call it grit — but we still need to do better.”