Aug 15, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Melinda Rogers

John Valentine has always felt a certain connection to the medical field. A certified emergency medical technician, the Utah state senator and attorney has worked on dozens of search and rescue missions over the years as a volunteer in Utah County. He watched his son attend medical school at Tulane University in New Orleans, before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 forced the younger Valentine to finish his fourth year of medical school at the University of Utah.

So when Valentine heard about an opportunity at the University of Utah School of Medicine to take part in a “Day in the Life of a Medical Student” event, he jumped at the chance. “I said ‘Sign me up,’” said Valentine, who recently left his post in the senate behind to take the helm at the Utah State Tax Commission. “It’s an honor to be able to understand what it’s like to go through medical school.”

Valentine was among several public officials and community leaders who spent a day on the University of Utah School of Medicine campus to get a taste of what it’s like to experience several grueling years of medical training and residency. From a mock white coat ceremony where “students” received a doctor’s coat and stethoscope, to time spent studying lab specimens and patient diagnosis scenarios, the event was designed to educate the community on what it takes to transform medical students into the next generation of health care leaders.

“As an integrated health system, we’re very much committed to fixing health care and we take very seriously our role in training the next generation of medical students, residents and fellows,” said Vivian S. Lee, MD, PhD, MBA, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, Dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of University of Utah Health. “They will become part of a much better health care system that is more financially viable.”

Formally called Project Medical Education, the one-day event stemmed from an idea launched by the American Association of Medical Colleges, a non-profit association representing all 141 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools and nearly 400 major teaching hospitals. The Utah event was a mix of hands-on activities and lectures from medical school faculty on educate the process of medical education, the benefits it provides, its complex funding mechanisms, and the essential role of government in providing financial support.

The event came at a time when medical education is important as the nation grapples with a looming physician shortage. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates a current shortage of 20,000 primary care physicians, with that statistic expected to rise in the next decade because 50 percent of the country’s presently employed physicians are over the age of 50.

In Utah the problem is even more acute. Utah ranks last in the U.S. for the number of active primary care physicians per 100,000 people. Utah’s statistic in that category is 58.4, significantly less than the national average of 79.4, according to the Utah Medical Education Council’s 2012 report on Utah’s physician workforce.

The University of Utah School of Medicine is working to solve this problem by training future physicians to help Utah be fully prepared for primary care needs in the future. The Utah Legislature—including Valentine and Rep. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine—supported efforts with the passage of Senate Bill 42, which was signed into law in June 2013 and expanded the University of Utah’s School of Medicine class size from 82 students to 122 by the year 2015.

Kennedy, who attended Project Medical Education in addition to Valentine, said he was pleased to learn more about how the University of Utah School of Medicine is training the state’s future health care providers at the event.

“I want the public to understand that to create doctors … there’s a necessary system that they need to proceed through so that they can obtain the information and the experience necessary so they can do an excellent job taking care of patients,” said Kennedy, a physician.  “It’s been pleasing to me to participate on a brief level with what the University of Utah is doing (through being a part of the mini medical school). Based on what I can tell, they’re doing a fantastic job training our young people.”

Melinda Rogers

Melinda Rogers is a communications specialist at the University of Utah Health Science Office of Public Affairs.

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