PCOM South Georgia DO Students Participate in Summer Orientation Program
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DO Students Get Head Start with FIRE Program

August 25, 2023

A PCOM South Georgia medical student practices suturing during the summer FIRE program to help med students transition into medical schoolWhen classes began at PCOM South Georgia in mid-August, there were 59 new students enrolled in the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program. While all of them gained insight during the orientation held the week before, about half of them felt they were even better prepared for this transition into medical school thanks to a two-week in-person program in which they participated on campus in July called FIRE (Fundamental Integration Required for Excellence).

Jason Walker, PhD, PCOM assistant dean of transformational learning and an associate professor of physiology, created FIRE as a way to help participants gain an understanding of what medical school will be like. This summer was the second year for the program.

“Being in medical school can be overwhelming,” Dr. Walker said. “The pace is a lot faster and there's a lot more expected from students than in a bachelor's or master's degree program. We found that it helps if students understand this before they get into the classes. That's why they can get a feel for classes during FIRE and have an idea of what's expected from them before their classes actually started. That way students are prepared and ready to go on the very first day of class.”

Incoming PCOM South Georgia DO students sit and listen to a panel of current students as part of the FIRE programDuring FIRE, participants heard from a panel of last year's FIRE participants, took lessons from some of the faculty that will teach their courses, toured both Colquitt Regional Medical Center in Moultrie and Archbold Memorial Medical Center in Thomasville, gained insight into the importance of mental health, learned basic suturing techniques and focused on handling finances. The participants even made a few new friends.

“It’s amazing to see how the students who become friends during FIRE remain friends throughout the rest of the year and beyond,” Dr. Walker said. “These students help each other during class, and then they study together outside of class and spend free time together. Years from now, I bet they'll still be in touch with each other. This program is the beginning of the support system that will help them get through medical school.”

For Neha Vangimalla of Suwanee, Georgia, participating in FIRE was a way to become accustomed to being a student again.

“I had been out of school for a year,” she said. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to kind of get back into the swing of things, kind of ease myself back into that schedule and honestly get to know PCOM more. It's been great for me. I've been able to see the campus get adjusted, make a lot of new friends before classes even started. I think [FIRE] takes a lot of that stress and anxiety that I had about starting med school off me.”

Umer Khan of Gainesville, Georgia, said he chose to participate in FIRE to help with the shift into medical school.

“I thought it would be great to ease into medical school because we always hear that medical school is hard,” Khan said. “It's a big transition into how we need to study and even our just day-to-day lives, and how we have to balance studies with everything else that we do.”

Kenyot'a Russell of Sumter, South Carolina, saw participating in FIRE as a way to get an advantage when it came to starting medical school.

“I chose to participate in FIRE because I wanted to come into the program and not be blindsided,” Russell said. “I heard such good things about the students who went through FIRE last year and how they were really acclimating well to this program. I wanted the same thing for myself. Why not give yourself a head start?”

Of the activities included in the FIRE curriculum, different ones appealed to participants for a variety of reasons.

FIRE participants tour Colquitt Regional Medical Center in Moultrie with an experienced physician speaking to them.“I think my favorite activity during FIRE has been our hospital tours that we've done,” Vangimalla said. “It's been really great to see the community and all the resources that we have in such a small town. It's something that I never expected coming from metro Atlanta – to see that we have hospitals with all these resources and people with different problems than what I would see up in a bigger city.”

For Khan, it was the non-medical lessons during FIRE that really resonated with him.

“One of my favorite activities has been the financial literacy session because that's something many people might not think about,” Khan said. “With how we have to finance our medical school and the loans we have to take out, it's good to have that class and [learn] about budgeting and how we should be spending our money throughout medical school to make sure that we are able to sustain ourselves throughout our medical school career. Another one of my favorites was also the mental wellness one. I think that's also important because with how rigorous our studies are, some people tend to lose focus on themselves and do what they need to do to stay mentally healthy and prevent burnout.”

Most of all, FIRE helped provide confidence and ease anxieties for these new students.

“I think it's really helped me open my eyes to what types of classes are offered and the pace and the rigor,” Vangimalla said.

 Russell said, “Even though I know that medical school will be challenging, I feel like I can actually do this. I would not have been able to be this comfortable going into my first year without this [FIRE] program.”

Dr. Walker said, “Last year was the first year we held the FIRE program, and those participants have said it was a great experience for them. Earlier this summer when asked about FIRE by the incoming DO students, they all recommended participating in FIRE. Several of last year's participants insisted on coming to one of this year's FIRE sessions as a panel so they could give advice to the new students and answer their questions. I think it makes a tremendous difference to have these in-person sessions so that new DO students can get a feel for medical school, make new friends, and gain an understanding of what to expect before they jump right in.”

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About PCOM South Georgia

In 2019, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), a premier osteopathic medical school with a storied 125-year history, extended its commitment to the Southeast by establishing PCOM South Georgia. An additional teaching location in Moultrie, Georgia, PCOM South Georgia offers both a full, four-year medical program leading to the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree and a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences. PCOM is a private, not-for-profit institution that trains professionals in the health and behavioral sciences fields. Joining PCOM Georgia in Suwanee in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state, PCOM South Georgia focuses on educating physicians for the region. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 229-668-3110.

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