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Dean's Update

September 14, 2020

Extraordinary efforts

One of the most exciting aspects of being dean of this great college is learning about the extraordinary efforts that are accomplished each and every day by members of our “college family” – even in the midst of a pandemic that has affected so many in profound ways.  And while unfortunately, we are currently seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases across campus, our clinical skills labs and curriculums remain intact for our students as safety precautions and close monitoring from faculty and staff continue.

Whether it’s work by faculty, administrators, staff, students, alumni, colleagues and friends, highlighting all the good work happening here is important and is a testament to the “COM grit and determination” that exists in our college and in our profession. It’s why we are known as a world-class osteopathic medical school and one that has built a solid strategic plan thanks to input and support from all of you: our faculty, staff and students.

Today, I’m putting the spotlight on Dr. Kirsten Waarala, our associate dean for medical education. With the college’s mission top of mind – to provide a world-class, osteopathic, student-centered graduate and medical education for all students – Dr. Waarala and her team have tackled this year’s challenges head on when it comes to offering stellar educational opportunities to our students.


Reflecting on medical education

WaaralaKirsten2009.jpgThe COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on patients and families who have suffered its effects, and on the health care systems and providers that have strived to care for them. Disruption due to the disease itself and the efforts to flatten the curve have altered aspects of our daily academic, work and personal lives. While there can be no discounting of the profound impact of this pandemic, we have also seen our students, faculty and staff join together to develop creative solutions and innovative approaches to support the delivery of the osteopathic medicine curriculum. We may find that these efforts will shape the college for years to come.

Summer semester 2020 was a markedly different experience for the incoming Class of 2024. The typical on-campus orientation program was modified into a series of online webinars and presentations. This format allowed for the introduction of valuable and timely discussions to the standard slate of topics. Student communities with faculty mentors were established to help new matriculants feel welcome and establish connections within the college. This has been a very positive experience through the first few months as we explore additional ways to leverage these groups.

As it became clear that in person instruction, including access to the gross anatomy lab, would not be feasible, faculty rallied to adjust curriculum content to an online format. In addition to integrating new virtual dissection software, the course content was expanded to include osteopathic correlations delivered by faculty from the OMM Department. In the second-year class, a planned interprofessional education event was adapted from an on-campus format to a virtual one, with several hundred osteopathic and nursing students attending a program on implicit bias that included Zoom break-out sessions.

Each of these new approaches was born out of necessity in response to the COVID-19 precautions, and each has provided insights on instructional methods and the student experience here in our college.

Advancing other strategic initiatives

At the same time, important work has continued to advance other strategic college initiatives. While the use of on-campus facilities has been limited by necessity, it has presented an opportunity to take on needed renovation and improvement projects in our East Lansing facilities. The college is also moving forward on information technology strategic imperatives including the deployment of the E-Value platform, developing a custom database to track and report on research and scholarly activity and creation of new AV labs at the Macomb, Detroit and East Lansing sites as a resource to faculty and to enhance our capability to deliver online and distance education content.

Clerkship rotations that were suspended in the spring were resumed in July. The college has worked closely with its network of base hospitals and clinical education sites across the state to promote a safe and meaningful return to hospital and office-based experiences. In the interim, new online methods and elective options were rapidly put in place so that students’ education could continue. As a result, the clerkship program now has more flexibility and options for students to explore patient safety, quality improvement and leadership in healthcare.

To support the continuum of osteopathic physicians entering residency and practice, the College of Osteopathic Medicine was granted the opportunity to serve as a regional National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners testing center, one of two in the country. Within a short time, a team from the Division of Medical Education and MSU IT worked with NBOME and Prometric Testing Centers to establish a location for our students, as well as other osteopathic students to complete the COMLEX-USA computer-based licensure examinations. This effort will provide additional testing options close to home and alleviate some of the scheduling disruptions imposed by COVID-19.


We’re in this together

Through the past few months, so much of what has been familiar and known is now different and uncertain. During this time, our college community has shown its resilience and ingenuity in not merely adapting the status quo, but reimagining elements of the osteopathic medicine program.

However, it’s important to note that now is an even more important time for everyone to exercise increased caution to help battle the spread of the virus across campus. Following proper safety precautions and taking personal responsibility by using appropriate social distancing, whether in on- or off-campus settings, is essential and will only further solidify the COM grit and determination that exists within our college community.

We are so proud of the efforts of the entire medical education team and the college as a whole, who have fostered the continued delivery of a world-class curriculum to our students. With everyone in all units working together, we will continue to meet our mission and accomplish our goals. Thank you to each and every one of you.

          Andy Amalfitano                       Kirsten Waarala