Moynahan Reflects on College's Evolution of Medical Education

Monday, October 1, 2012

As the UA College of Medicine – Tucson admits new classes each year, administrators, faculty and staff work to ensure students are receiving the best medical education possible.

Deputy Dean of Education Kevin Moynahan, MD, knows what it takes to instill an effective medical school curriculum. As a member of the UA College of Medicine Class of 1993, he’s able to compare his experiences to those of the students today, providing a report of excellence and improvement.

“Students are better trained for realistic patient care and have a more holistic approach,” says Dr. Moynahan. “With the Societies Program, they experience diseases through real patients early in their training. Students are able to apply what they’ve learned in the basic science blocks, which develops a deeper appreciation for the time they spend studying.”

The internal medical physician said the UA College of Medicine stands apart from other medical schools for three main reasons – the Societies Program, the Arizona Simulation Technology and Education Center (ASTEC) and the organ system-based learning blocks.

Since 2006, the Societies Program has paired medical students with select faculty physicians to teach them compassionate and comprehensive patient care. There are 20 physician mentors, each of whom is paired with six medical students in each class. The students meet with their Societies mentor once a week during the first two years of medical school, and periodically during the third and fourth years.

As a result of this program, clinical care – integrated with basic science principles – ranks at the top of the college’s priority list. Students see real patients on day one of the first year.

“Our focus is patient-centered care, so that our students start to understand what it’s like to be a patient and how to empathize with them,” Dr. Moynahan says.

He also emphasizes the importance of self-care throughout medical education. Each College of Medicine student receives varying forms of support through his or her Societies mentor.

“Our Societies Program assures that each student has a home base within the college,” he says. “Each Societies mentor knows the curriculum and their students, and is available not only to teach them longitudinally, but also to be there for support over the four-year period. The mentor knows where to direct the student if he or she needs additional aid, whether it be with health care, academic assistance, personal counseling or other services.”

Within this program, the longitudinal learning groups are introduced to the ASTEC lab.

“We are in the process of developing a three-year curriculum for ASTEC to assure that each clerkship and rotation is using the lab,” he says. “Right now, students have mandatory activities in years one and two and during the year-three clerkships.”

Currently, as part of the college’s commitment to interprofessional education, students learn how to run a simulated code with other health sciences students. This opportunity provides practice in a teamwork environment with other future health-care professionals.

Additionally, students learn how to intubate and use defibrillators while utilizing the various areas of the simulation lab. College of Medicine clubs also schedule their own activities in the lab throughout the year.

ASTEC offers the chance to practice 20 core clinical skills, including high intensity procedures, throughout four years of training.

Dr. Moynahan explains that this opportunity was not available to him and his peers during medical school. “As an alumnus, the only thing available when I was a student was a mannequin – named Harvey – that simulates heart sounds. In fact, Harvey still is used in our educational programs.”

High-definition simulation technology did not exist and was not available for previous College of Medicine students, he recalls. “Instead, we learned the traditional way, on patients. “You had a lot of learners practicing on real patients for the first time because there was no other way to do it.”

“The ASTEC lab allows for feedback. It gives the student the ability to take tests to ensure they are ready to do the particular procedure on a person,” Dr. Moynahan says. “But only recently has the technology made it reasonable to assume that simulation may help. If a procedure is so far removed from what it may be on a human being it may hinder future performance.”

The organ-based integrative blocks have helped to make medical education more realistic and seamless. Professors teach according to the organ systems, applying multiple disciplines at a time.

Prior to 2006, before the ArizonaMed Curriculum was instituted, the college had a four-year curriculum that was very traditional. The longitudinal departmental courses encouraged students to learn about a discipline, rather than how multiple elements are integrated and applied to a patient’s condition.

Dr. Moynahan says the decision to make the change in curriculum had a major impact and was beneficial.

“The patient does not present to you as one discipline. They present to you a problem with multiple systems involved. Integrated blocks help students understand how the various basic science disciplines fit into patient care,” he says.

As the college progresses over time, the ArizonaMed Curriculum will continue to evolve. Years from now, alumni will look back on their experiences and see the many ways technology and new learning processes continue to advance medical education.


We’d like to acknowledge and thank six UA College of Medicine alumni who currently serve as Societies Mentors. We appreciate your continued dedication to the college and future physicians.

Carlos Gonzalez, MD, Class of 1981
Lane Johnson, MD, Class of 1983
Maria Bishop, MD, Class of 1991
Violet Siwik, MD, Class of 1991
Kevin Moynahan, MD, Class of 1993
Wendi Kulin, MD, Class of 2005