Learning What It Means To Be A Physician

  • Article by: Nancy Crotti
  • Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • June 10, 2009 - 4:27 PM

Students on the Twin Cities campus are required to write their own oath and attend a white-coat ceremony on the third day. The 170 first-year students in the Twin Cities and 60 on the Duluth campus first encounter patients in November. The university also finds physician-mentors in each community for most students.

Demonstrating A Commitment

"A lot of the first year is trying to understand what it means to be a physician - to them individually; how they develop, who they are and what they have to contribute to healthcare," explains Kathleen Watson, MD, associate dean for students and student learning.

Students have compared the curriculum to being hit by water from a fire hose, according to Watson. In addition to the sciences, first-years learn about medical ethics and cultural medicine, and do projects in community health. "What we always try to do and are always working on is bringing the patient into the center of students' educations so that they have some context for understanding the science," she adds. "We want students to demonstrate a commitment to the human condition."

Interacting With Patients A Priority

Mayo Medical School ( in Rochester accepts 50 students per class, and they encounter patients "in a very supervised fashion during their very first week of medical school," according to Patricia Barrier, MD, MPH, associate dean for student affairs. "That's to link them with the reason they're going to medical school, which is to interact with patients," Barrier explains. The students interview patients, perform some examinations and formulate their thoughts with a supervising physician. Each is assigned a staff mentor.

"In first year, about half the time is spent in a classroom setting and the other half would be in a more practical experience, whether it's a lab or clinical experience," Barrier adds. "What we try to avoid is having the students sitting in a classroom all day long."

Mayo students take courses in six-week blocks. They also have plenty of opportunity for service learning, research and obtaining additional degrees in law or business. But all work and no play doesn't necessarily make for great doctors.

"We encourage our students to also engage in self-care and social interaction," Barrier says. "They can't take good care of other people if they don't take care of themselves."

© 2018 Star Tribune