Med Students for the Day at CUMC’s “Project Medical Education”


On July 15, Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) hosted Project Medical Education (PME).  PME is a project coordinated by the Association of American Medical Colleges that brings policy makers and opinion leaders to medical schools and teaching hospitals to learn about academic medicine.

This year, twenty-one community leaders, health care professionals, staff for elected officials, and others spent the day on campus seeing and learning firsthand about the day-to-day activities at CUMC. Though several PME programs take place each year across the country, CUMC’s is the only one that focuses primarily on community residents and neighbors. All but two of this year’s participants live or work in Northern Manhattan.

As in previous years, the program was a great success, with PME participants and CUMC saying how much they enjoyed it. Sandra Betancourt, Executive Director of the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, summed it up by saying, “I found the PME very educational and, yes, fun and learned about all the great research taking place at the Medical Center.”

After a brief orientation and introduction to CUMC finances, Associate Dean Lisa Mellman talked about the medical school curriculum and led a discussion with several medical students on their volunteer activities in the community. Dr. Patrice Spitalnik gave a short histology lecture using the latest medical education technology. From there it was off to the New York State Psychiatric Institute to learn about mental health research. The session, at which Dr. Victoria Arango spoke about her work to better understand depression and suicide, included a brain-slicing demonstration.

The next stop was the Mailman School of Public Health, where the PME guests visited an environmental health sciences lab that studies the effects of various pollutants on humans. This included looking at slides of human tissue exposed to certain pollutants. The guests also played a computer simulation game about how health professionals address public health incidents. In a moving moment, Dean Linda Fried administered the Public Health Oath to all the guests. The concept of the Public Health Oath originated at Columbia.

A working lunch at the Faculty Club was next.  Dean Lee Goldman chatted with the group briefly and then Patrick Burke discussed the future of the CUMC campus.

After lunch, Dr. Rudi Odeh-Ramadan gave a general overview of research at CUMC. The PME participants also visited a lab to see how scientists work with mice to better understand Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The College of Dental Medicine was next. Interim Dean Ronnie Myers spoke about how the College provides services to the community, and Drs. Sunil Wadhwa and Sidney Eisig described recent advances in oral health care. Dr. James Fine then taught the PME participants how to place dental implants. Three of the guests showed their skills on a synthetic model of a jaw with varying degrees of success.

The School of Nursing was the final stop of the day. Dean Bobbie Berkowitz and Drs. Mary Johnson and Cliff Roberson took the group through a simulation that is used to train students to deal with an emergency room situation. PME participant Maria Lizardo, from the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corp., played the role of the worried spouse. After the program, Ms. Lizardo said that she had had “an amazing day” and that she planned to share her experience with friends and colleagues. “I am glad,” she said, “to see that there is such a close tie with the community, and I am optimistic that our bond will continue to be strengthened.”

Everyone who attended the 2013 PME at CUMC learned a lot and had a wonderful time.  All said that they would recommend the program to friends and colleagues. Kofi Boateng, from the West Harlem Development Corporation, noted how much he had learned about “the significant contributions that CUMC makes to the Columbia University name, the community, the nation, and the world.” He also said that based on his experience at PME, he would now be a strong supporter of funding for the National Institutes of Health.

The next PME will be held in 2014.