Four-week clerkships allow PCOM Georgia medical students to learn under the guidance of physicians in a variety of specialties and locations.
From Dalton to Valdosta, PCOM Georgia’s clinical education footprint crosses the state of Georgia and beyond. About 260 medical students wearing white coats emblazoned with the college’s flame logo can be found in large and small hospitals, clinics, healthcare centers and private practices.
As December approaches, the focus of second year osteopathic medicine students turns toward not only their class work, board exam preparation, and the holidays, but also to where they’ll spend their third year of medical school. Like most medical schools, PCOM Georgia in Suwanee is a four-year teaching institution that provides two years of classroom and lab instruction by experienced faculty members and two years of working side-by-side with physician preceptors in four-week rotations or clerkships.
Attending physicians or preceptors who are board certified, licensed DOs or MDs lead the clerkships and assist students in applying the knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom to the real world of clinical medicine. The clerkships are designed to be varied and take place in urban, suburban and rural areas to give students a wide range of experience and a well-rounded education.
Marla Golden, MS, DO ‘88, FACEP, associate dean of clinical education, said, “It’s imperative that our students receive quality clinical experiences in multiple settings to understand the nuances and stressors associated with each.”
She said, “We view the preceptors’ offices and institutions as the clinical classrooms of our third and fourth year students. We value our relationships with our preceptors and clinical partner institutions and are committed to working with them to train and retain our graduates.”
According to Dr. Golden, PCOM Georgia’s third year students rotate through the core specialties of medicine in order to establish a strong foundation. In the fourth year, they complete several required rotations in rural and underserved family medicine and emergency medicine, and then pursue electives in specialties of their choice.
After each core rotation cycle, students take Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Achievement Tests, a series of nationally standardized subject exams, to ensure they’ve mastered the subject area.
Each December, PCOM Georgia second year students participate in a “lottery“ where students rank their choices for specific core clinical campuses or anchor sites and they are matched to available positions. Working with the Georgia Statewide Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Network, PCOM Georgia’s Office of Clinical Education places students in anchor sites including the Blue Ridge AHEC based in Rome, the Foothills AHEC based in Gainesville, the Magnolia Coastlands AHEC based in Statesboro, the Southwest Georgia AHEC based in Albany, and the Three Rivers AHEC based in Columbus.
PCOM Georgia’s relationship with the AHECs is extremely valuable. According to Dr. Golden, the AHEC network has been holding regular Primary Care Summits which provide “incredibly valuable information to help us guide our programming in all aspects of our medical education process.”
She added, “From the clinical education side, the AHECs have given my team great insight into how we can improve our processes with respect to student needs and preceptor development, as well as understand what makes our students more attractive to residency program directors and hospital administrators.”
Theresa Williams, the clinical training coordinator for the Three Rivers AHEC where 150 students have rotated through the area since 2010, said, “I’ve had preceptors tell me that the PCOM Georgia students are very well prepared for clerkships and that they love teaching them.” According to Williams, the PCOM Georgia students have been involved in the AHEC Scholars Program while working in the area in which they’ve “mentored college students and supported them in their career choices.”
She noted that the anchor program concept where students are based in an area for their rotations was piloted through the Three Rivers AHEC. H. William Craver III, DO ’87, FACOS, the dean and chief academic officer of PCOM South Georgia, serves on the Three Rivers AHEC Board of Directors.
Across the state line, Jacksonville and New Smyrna Beach, Florida, also serve as anchor sites, and students may choose to complete clerkships at several Pennsylvania and Delaware sites as well in closer proximity to the Philadelphia campus of PCOM.
Student-doctor Annie Phung (DO ’21) has spent her third and fourth years in the Blue Ridge area of Georgia and has enjoyed the one-on-one time she’s spent with her attending physicians.
“Floyd Medical Center in Rome is a great hospital,” she said. The residents have enjoyed teaching us and building students up.” Although her hospital exposure has been limited, she has spent a great deal of time in outpatient and clinic settings working within the Harbin Clinic system, which has more than 250 healthcare professionals who provide care across more than 40 medical specialties and services.
Phung said she has found the area to be medically underserved with patients presenting with many chronic diseases. Being just one hour from both Chattanooga and Atlanta, Phung said she has enjoyed the minimal traffic when commuting to her rotation sites.
According to Eric Malaney (DO ’22), whose rotations to date have been primarily at Hamilton Medical Center, he finds Dalton to be a “pretty nice small/medium sized town with everything you need.” He has developed relationships with the attendings, residents, students and staff at the hospital and has found the medical education program coordinators to be ‘outstanding.’ “They have made the experience feel very well-integrated,” he said.
He said his cohort has academic half days each Friday afternoon with guest lectures, student presentations and simulation center activities. Housing in the area has been provided by Hamilton Medical Center and the students receive daily cafeteria meal credits. “It really feels like a ‘mini residency’ program and is quickly becoming a genuine teaching hospital as Hamilton’s internal medicine residency program receives thousands of applications for only a few spots. He noted that next year a family medicine residency program will be developed.
“Overall, I feel incredibly lucky to have been selected to come here via the rotation lottery that the Clinical Education staff organized for us. There are only a few spots here but it’s the best rotation site in my opinion!”
Morgan Fuller (DO ’21) has enjoyed her time in the SOWEGA AHEC. She said, “The people of South Georgia have welcomed PCOM students with open arms. They make us feel right at home and like we are part of the family. She especially enjoyed helping to decorate the Georgia South Family Medicine Residency Clinic’s Christmas parade float and even rode in the parade.
About her clinical experience, she said, “The one-on-one teaching creates a hands-on learning environment for students to hone their skills.” In addition, she has found that the current residents and attendings mentor the medical students by offering advice on how to “choose a specialty, prepare for board exams and residency applications, and become a compassionate physician.” In turn, the SOWEGA cohort of students has mentored and tutored the first and second year students at PCOM South Georgia, the College’s campus which is located in Moultrie.
Fuller has found that living in a rural area and caring for an underserved population “allows students to learn how to become competent primary care providers.” She added, “Students quickly learn how the interplay of socio-economic factors limit access to health care and impact health literacy which can influence our patients’ well-being.”
Based in Jacksonville, Florida, Varun Yarabarla (DO ‘21) said, “There are numerous hospitals and clinics in the city allowing for great networking not just with physicians, but with other medical students, nurses, PAs and more.”
He added, “There is great medical education all within a 15-30 minute commute time. Comparatively, Jacksonville is a smaller city, so it can be quiet in the suburbs but with plenty of things to do in order to enjoy the fabulous weather. When you are not studying or working, you can enjoy many of the local attractions and beaches. Jacksonville is an ideal fit for those wishing to have a perfect mix in terms of getting a small city vibe alongside a prime medical education.”
In-person rotations have been supplemented by virtual rotations during 2020 when some hospitals have limited medical education due to COVID-19. During these rotations, students accompany physicians while they make virtual hospital rounds, watch procedures online, and even learn from standardized patients or patient actors as they mimic diseases.
Dr. Golden said, “Our students’ clinical experiences prepare them to be qualified physicians who will ultimately strengthen and enhance the healthcare workforce and patient care in Georgia.”
Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine which has a storied history as a premier osteopathic medical school. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service to the wider community. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center, an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 678-225-7500.
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