New U medical students to get first white coats

The students will finish their first medical courses at the University on Friday.

Naomi Scott

The 2004 first-year Medical School class has been exposed to a lot in the last seven weeks – new friends, bigger books, blood, bodies, bones – but many said it’s all been worth it.

On Friday, the students will finish their first Medical School courses at the University. To highlight the occasion, students will receive their first white coats in a presentation Saturday at Northrop Auditorium.

While their undergraduate days are behind them, they are now learning how to be the future doctors who will help people around the world.

“It’s always exciting to meet the first-years,” said Jill Spencer, Medical School program associate and year-one coordinator. “It’s exciting to see the new faces – the faces of future doctors.”

School admissions said 165 students began classes in August. This year, 2,166 applied for the program. Students range in age from 19 to 33.

Outside lecture and laboratory time, many first-year medical students speak about the amount of time they spend in the laboratory to study for class and brush up their familiarity with the human body.

Many medical students said the Gross Human Anatomy and Embryology (INMD6150) course has been a positive experience so far.

“I thought the class would be boring, but it’s actually pretty interesting,” Joel Schaffer said.

Kimberly Viskocil, another first-year student, said she’s always learning.

“Everything you learn in the course builds on the day before, so it helps the information solidify in your mind,” she said.

The average day

Class starts at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Yawning and toting their bags, books and coffee mugs, the students arrived in bunches Wednesday to learn about the functions, anatomy and conditions of the human eye.

From conjunctivitis to glaucoma, neuroscience professor Steven McLoon detailed the human eye using PowerPoint presentations.

But learning isn’t solely done from a lecture chair, and students later expand on their lesson by working inside a Jackson Hall laboratory.

Through intensive anatomy lessons in books and lectures, students said, they are also becoming accustomed to every inch of the body by using cadavers. They are working on the body, region by region.

Students first study the arms and legs. They end the course with the head and neck, said course director Ken Roberts, an assistant professor in the urologic surgery department.

Cadavers are donated human bodies used regularly by medical students to learn about anatomy. The bodies are given by individuals and their families, Roberts said.

First encounters with the cadavers can be difficult for new medical students, but it is often only temporary, he said.

“There’s always an initial uncertainty and tension because it’s a completely new thing,” Roberts said.

While the experience might be uncomfortable initially, students such as Schaffer and Viskocil said they appreciated the opportunity to learn about the human body in such a hands-on manner.

“It’s a great privilege that these people were kind enough to donate their bodies so we can learn,” Schaffer said. “There’s only so much you can get out of textbooks – the cadavers are an important learning tool.”

Viskocil described the experience as “a little shocking but invaluable.”

Using cadavers helps one learn about the variations of the body, because all human bodies are slightly different. After being used in the classroom, remains are typically cremated and returned to the family, Roberts said.

Spending so much time together in lab and lecture has created new friendships in the first-year class. It has been the best part of the Medical School experience so far, Viskocil and Schaffer said.

“You get to know so many people with so many different backgrounds,” Viskocil said.

The Medical School educates 70 percent of the state’s physicians, according to the school’s Web site.

With more than 65 percent of graduates choosing primary-care fields of study, the school teaches the most future physicians to practice family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine in the nation, its Web site reports.

Although first-year students have more than three years until graduation, many said they are already deciding what field they would like enter.

Viskocil said the gross anatomy class made her certain she doesn’t want to become a surgeon.

Meanwhile, the first-year students said they have high hopes for the rest of their Medical School days.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what the first-year Medical School class will achieve,” Viskocil said, “Both for the med school and the whole community here.”