New Pilot Program Aims to Ease Transition into Medical School
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New Pilot Program Aims to Ease Transition into Medical School

August 28, 2017

A new program at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) helps first-year DO students acclimate to medical school.

A new pilot program at PCOM, run by medical students and for medical students, aims to ease the transition into medical school, particularly for those who haven’t had recent or much exposure to anatomical sciences courses.

TISSUE— “teaching introductory study skills utilizing experience”—is a two-week program that brings rising first-year medical students to campus early to acclimate to the pace and culture of medical school, while also preparing them to work with cadavers as part of SPOM, or Structural Principles of Osteopathic Medicine. SPOM runs the first trimester of the first year of osteopathic medical school, and working with the cadavers can be stressful for some students.

“If you don’t have any experience in that type of setting, it can be rough,” said Kathleen Ackert (DO ’20), the originator of TISSUE, who had participated in a similar program at another medical school prior to starting at PCOM. “We wanted to ease incoming students into that—that was the big thing, getting them more comfortable. I think having that experience helped them be better prepared for their ‘real’ first day in the lab.”

While gaining a head start on anatomy concepts was a large part of TISSUE’s mission, the program also sought to make students more comfortable with all aspects of medical school, from where to buy groceries, to paying for parking, to locating lockers, to learning effective study habits.

“In the morning, we would give lectures, and talk about memory tips and mnemonics and what we thought was high yield,” said Ms. Ackert, referring to herself and fellow TISSUE facilitators Stephanie Michalik (DO ’20), Kristin Oller (DO ’20), Brandon Twombly (DO ’20) and Mark Ujevich (DO ’20). “We thought that would be helpful because it wasn’t a teacher in front of them, but a person in their shoes just a year ago—someone who can relate best to their experience.”

After her own experience in SPOM, Ms. Ackert approached courses leaders Marina D’Angelo, PhD, professor, anatomy, and Michael McGuiness, PhD, professor, anatomy, to implement a program that could help brand-new students acclimate more quickly. Six months later, in July 2017, they saw it come together in the form of TISSUE.

“Whenever our students start, part of what comes with that is anxiety and the adjustment of changing to this level of education,” said Dr. McGuinness, who helped guide the students as they created the TISSUE curriculum. “I support any efforts to help with that transition process, and I hope that going forward we'll see this again. I've heard students say they were glad and found it helpful.”

Several students who participated in TISSUE noted that they did feel better prepared and more at ease when they returned to PCOM for orientation.

“We were in the anatomy lab almost every day and reviewed most of the things that will be covered in SPOM—anatomy, histology, some information on organ systems—so we had some insight into everything,” said Nicole Kostosky (DO ’21). “We were given practice exams, and were able to try out different study methods to see what worked best for us, when it doesn’t count yet.”

TISSUE also offered an online component, for students who were not able to come to campus early. “I was nervous about the sheer volume of information of basic science I would encounter,” said Brendan Flynn (DO ’21). “But it was great to learn different approaches and strategies for learning and absorbing that information, from people who had just gone through the process right before you.”

TISSUE facilitators also set up opportunities for incoming first-year students to bond and become better acquainted with each other before the school year started, which participants said was another benefit.

“I think everyone is a little anxious about starting medical school,” said Katherine (Kelly) Mulquin (DO ’21). “One of the many positive benefits of TISSUE was the camaraderie that we developed with each other. The M2 leaders really encouraged us to bond and support one another. Having that support system in place before school started has helped make the transition so much easier. By the time I came back for orientation, it felt like home.”

Going forward, the TISSUE facilitators will distribute surveys to participants at several times throughout the year to gauge perceived levels of anxiety, and compare them to anonymous surveys of students who didn’t go through the program. Drs. D’Angelo and McGuinness are planning to study whether the program has an effect on academic performance.

“We want to see how the students who participated in TISSUE performed, compared to those who didn’t, to study any positive effects,” said Dr. D’Angelo. “If we find a real correlation in academic performance and participation in this program, we can then start to think about how it can be expanded to later years of medical school.”

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About Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, educational psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in applied behavior analysis, applied positive psychology, biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, medical laboratory science, mental health counseling, non profit leadership and population health management, organizational development and leadership, physician assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration. PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit or call 215-871-6100.

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Daniel McCunney
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