Mini Medical School touches the heart

Craig Gustafson

More than 300 people filed into a Moos Tower auditorium Wednesday evening to start their first day of medical school without the hassles of paying tuition or taking an entrance exam.
The “students” arrived to start a six-week Mini Medical School. The school is a lecture series aimed at informing the public about timely science and medical issues.
While wearing rubber gloves, participants were able to inspect real brains, lungs and even a heart.
“It’s unusual how people are diving right in,” said Sue Hibberd, a program participant who works in environmental health, as fellow student Kevin Troy, 10, held a brain in his hands.
The organs were taken from cadavers the previous day.
In addition to some young children, Mini Medical School participants ranged from senior citizens to undergraduates with a thirst for scientific knowledge that goes deeper than “Newton’s Apple.”
The course was closed in early September after 2,000 people tried to register for a class with a maximum enrollment of 325. People who couldn’t make it into the class were placed on a waiting list for future sessions.
For many, the lecture series was the first taste of what it is like to attend a large university.
“The (Medical School) has been re-created so well, you even got to stand in line to register,” said Frank Cerra, senior vice president of the Academic Health Center, to the packed auditorium.
Laughter and learning are two of the biggest components of the lecture series.
Jon Pryor, an associate professor of urology, gave the first session’s two-hour lecture. He joked that most people want to talk about sex organs right away.
“(Men) think the heart’s primary purpose is to pump blood to the penis,” he said.
Students were given binders, an evaluation form and lecture notes. Several people even took notes.
“It’s got the feel of a genuine class,” said Brian Baldwin, an education worker who signed up for the sessions because they sounded exciting.
The concept began with actual medical students. The AHC Student Consultative Committee developed the Mini Medical School based on a similar program that started in Colorado in 1991.
Mike Vollmer, a third-year medical student, and several students from other medical disciplines presented the idea to AHC faculty, who embraced it wholeheartedly.
“We wanted to open (the Medical School) up to folks interested in science,” he said.
The University received a $10,000 grant from Pfizer Inc., a pharmaceutical company, to create the series.
Dr. Greg Vercellotti, associate dean of the Medical School and series moderator, said the grant does not fully cover the cost of the sessions, but the importance of teaching the public about health and science is priceless.
“We want you to get a look behind closed doors,” he said.
Vercellotti said the lectures are free and no exams are given, but attendance is mandatory.
Participants must attend at least five of the six sessions to receive their diploma.
University President Mark Yudof will hand out Mini Medical School degrees at a graduation ceremony following the final lecture on Nov. 17.
Nancy Lake-Smith, a former University student, said she has been looking forward to the series for awhile.
“I have received a degree in journalism and law from the University, now I’m going to get a Mini Medical degree,” she said. “Who knows what’ll be next?”
AHC officials said they hope to offer the lecture series next semester and possibly make it a regular feature of the University.

Craig Gustafson covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3233.