A taste of medicine

A taste of medicine McGill University

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McGill Reporter
February 22, 2001 - Volume 33 Number 11
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A taste of medicine

Anyone interested in learning more about medicine, but not quite willing to become a full-fledged medical student, might be interested in a new program being developed by the Faculty of Medicine -- the "Mini-Med School."

Photo Mini-med school pioneer Dr. J. John Cohen

Starting next fall, the faculty will be launching a six-to-eight-part lecture series specifically designed to teach the general public about the white-coat profession. Think of McGill's Mini-Med School as providing crash courses on topics that first or second-year medical student often tackle, but without the hours of homework or the pressures of exams.

If all goes according to plan, the Mini-Med School should be holding its first lectures on Wednesday evenings, from 6 pm to 8:30 pm, beginning in October. Topics will include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, cancer, the cardiovascular system, human genetics, immunology, psychology and ethics.

Each segment will be named with catchy titles -- "From Bugs to Drugs," "Watching the Mind at Work,"" Is Your Body Running on Empty" -- to let people know that lectures will be designed to be fun as well as stimulating. The series will be complemented with small group discussions and some clinical demonstrations. Best of all, no prerequisites will be required to register.

McGill will be the first Canadian university to launch a mini medical school, a concept that's already a huge hit in the U.S. and Europe, where some 75 medical schools have launched such programs.

The very first mini-med school was created a dozen years ago in Colorado by McGill graduate Dr. J. John Cohen (BSc'59, MSc'60, PhD'64, MD'68), an immunologist at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

Given his expertise in mini-med schools, Cohen has been invited by McGill to offer Montrealers a preview of his brainchild tonight, as part of the University's Medical Education Rounds lecture series.

Reached in Colorado, last week, the affable doctor who has won several teaching awards, was delighted that his alma mater was adopting his idea.

"Launching a mini-med school will give McGill a wonderful opportunity to show the community what goes on behind its doors," he says, adding the program will also function as a payback for taxpayers hungry for medical know-ledge. "Since it's the public that supports universities.

"It still amazes me how many people want to attend mini-med school," Cohen continues, noting that when he originated the concept in 1990, he expected 20 people to register. "Instead, over 1,200 people called us wanting to attend."

Kappy Flanders, a member of McGill's Board of Governors and a tireless fundraiser, has no doubt McGill's Mini-Med School will be equally popular with Montrealers. Indeed, it was Flanders herself, after hearing one of Cohen's lectures in Colorado, who convinced the University to adopt the project. "I said, 'If you don't like the concept, don't even tell me, because I think it's fabulous,'" she recalls telling Dr. Yvonne Steinert, associate dean, faculty development, for the Faculty of Medicine.

Steinert didn't need much convincing. "There's a great need in the general community for medical information. People want to know more about health and illness," she says. "By introducing its mini-med school, McGill will be reaching out to educate the public at large, while also helping to recruit potential students."

Another important outcome in launching mini-med courses, Cohen says, is how the lectures provide health educators with an opportunity to talk about their profession in lay terms. "There's a basic problem of communication between clients and doctors that's universal," he says, adding mini-med's main goal is to counter that reality.

Cohen says doctors often don't take time to communicate efficiently with people, because they figure the average patient wouldn't understand medical explanations -- a horribly false notion, he says. "People crave the opportunity to use their brains and medicine is always of interest to everyone."

Having followed one of Cohen's lectures on the human body, Flanders agrees the mini-med teaching method is informative. "I don't have a scientific mind," she chuckles, "but when I heard Dr. Cohen explaining how human anatomy worked, I thought, 'Oh my God, I understand this."

Some details about McGill's mini-med offerings have yet to be hammered out: Which professors will teach the courses, whether courses will be simulcast over the Web and whether mini-med courses will be provided for free.

On the latter point, Flanders explains, McGill is leaning towards charging a nominal fee. "The idea being that if the University charges, people will be more inclined to follow the series the whole way through."

But those are mere details, Flanders says. "What we'd like to see is for our mini-med school to go on not just for one year, but for years to come, since it's an effective way of informing the public about what McGill does."

Dr. Cohen will be discussing his mini-med concept on February 22, between 4 pm and 6 pm, at the 5th floor Meakins Amphitheatre of the McIntyre Medical Sciences Building. For more information, please call (514) 398-2698.

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