The Bridge Program Provides Students With Insight and Early Preparation

Thursday, September 1, 2011

 July marked the 17th-annual University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson Medical Student Bridge Program, in which 28 students began their medical education before most of their peers.

Participants received special teaching by taking part in lectures, case-based instruction and team-learning activities. Additionally, they were educated about learning method instruction and review and study assistance. Midweek, the participants attended a dinner reception with friends and family. Lastly, the program concluded with a practice exam.

Marc Tischler, PhD, first created the program 19 years ago when he participated in the Dean’s Teaching Scholars Program. After establishing his plan of action, he asked the former UA College of Medicine dean, James Dalen, MD, MPH, to help with funding.

Years later, he continues to dedicate his time and energy to incoming medical students.

The Bridge Program helps “non-traditional,” first-year medical students build strong study skills and allows them to form connections with fellow classmates before the other students arrive.

“For a variety of reasons, being non-traditional means they need to hit the ground running with more sophisticated study approaches,” said Dr. Tischler. “Their approaches must be effective.”   

This year, the Bridge student’s represented a variety of backgrounds.
“We represent six countries here. We’re a real diverse group,” he said in the welcome session held July 20. “We have nine students who are married and four military veterans.”

Although Dr. Tischler is in charge of most Bridge activities, he has additional assistance from three College of Medicine – Tucson staff members. Joanna Arnold, MA, director of the Office of Student Development, Lacey Orsini, MA, program coordinator for the Office of Student Development, and Sara Solem, MEd, senior program coordinator for the Office of Medical Student Education, all played a critical role in the program’s success.

Solem helped to plan for team learning and social-based sessions, while Arnold and Orsini educated students about imperative study and preparation skills. During the eight-day program, students had the opportunity to compare the benefits of attending a lecture prepared, in comparison to walking in to class without previewing any of the material.

Many students said they never would have thought to study material before a lecture, but admitted they now can’t do without the early preparation.

“The methods of studying they teach have helped a lot. The idea of previewing and then reviewing the material will help me to retain the information,” said Torri Montgomery, a 23-year-old Bridge Program participant who attended Arizona State University for her undergraduate education.

Kent Martin, 30, said that the program has helped him to meet people in his class and integrate him back into the world of education.

“I’m a non-traditional, military guy and it’s been about 11 years since I’ve been in school,” he said.

Martin also said he would encourage future students to participate in the program.

“I would recommend it to everyone. You get to meet a few of the professors in advance and it’s a huge opportunity,” he explained. “I’m also trying to use the iPad exclusively to take my notes. You get some practice and a head start before school begins.”

With the integration of the iPad into the College of Medicine – Tucson curriculum, Bridge students who opted to use the device instead of paper course materials were able to pick up the devices before the rest of the class. Students were encouraged to take all notes and view every lecture on their iPads in order to become well-versed in the new technology.

In addition to the many educational benefits, students who participated in the program also were given a $500 scholarship to make up for potential loss of wages. They also had the opportunity to adjust to the campus and familiarize themselves with classrooms, the library and other areas of the College.

The numerous program benefits have drawn attention from other schools. Two faculty members from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine visited during the Bridge Program so they too could observe.

“We hope to start a program like this at our campus”, said Becky Clark, MD, dean of faculty and curriculum at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine.

Both Dr. Clark and a fellow faculty member spent a few days in Tucson to observe and evaluate the program. They hope to pilot their own version of the Bridge Program during the winter, if scheduling permits.

Regardless of their ages, the Bridge students continue to compliment what the program has to offer. Also, alumni who have participated in the past still speak very highly of the opportunity to get acclimated before classes began.

Anthony Petelin, MD, from the Class of 2006, said it was an experience that he will never forget.

“With so much excitement, anticipation and uncertainty surrounding the beginning of one's medical career, the Bridge Program provided an early foundation upon which to build throughout medical school,” said Dr. Petelin, who currently works as a dermatologist in California.

He explained that the information he learned proved invaluable.

“I learned better study habits and got an early exposure to the type of complex scientific rhetoric and material which would continue throughout my career. I also made, and still maintain, many lasting friendships from those first few weeks. There's nothing like the first day of school, and participating in the Bridge Program alleviated so much of the anxiety surrounding the start of such a big endeavor that when the first day really did arrive, I felt ready,” he explained.

As Dr. Petelin mentioned, a goal of the Bridge Program is to help students interact with one other, in hopes of their obtaining study partners for the future.

“We encourage the students to find study groups. We hope that they will test each other, not just study together,” Dr. Tischler said.

He also said that he hopes to be a part of the program for about nine more years.

“My current plan overall is to teach at least up to my 40th medical class. It will be 32 this fall, which will be my 25th Bridge group,” he explained.