Dear Lou Anna,
After four years of tests, labs, research papers and countless all-nighters, pre-med students are likely to have realized that becoming a doctor might not as glamorous as it’s made out to be. As much as we would like to believe it, the real world is nothing like Grey’s Anatomy. Instead of glorified surgeries and in-house romances with attractive co-workers, a pre-med student’s academic career is often filled with studying and dates with the library. But regardless of the strenuous academic routine performed by pre-med students during four years of undergraduate study, many of them still want to go on to medical school, for another four years. [meds1]
Last year, MSU accepted 156 first-year medical students into its College of Human Medicine. On a campus of roughly 45,000 students, this is a rather small number. Many deserving students have to be turned down by MSU because there is simply not enough room. This forces many MSU students to look elsewhere, often out of state, for medical schools.
This is where the MSU College of Human Medicine’s new center comes in, L.A. The university is in the process of building the new Secchia Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. The facility is named in honor of Ambassador Peter F. Secchia, an MSU alumnus, long-time supporter of the university and former U.S. Ambassador to Italy (1989 to 1993), according to the MSU Newsroom Oct. 26 press release regarding the center.
As of fall 2008, 50 second-year medical students will have a chance to move to Grand Rapids to finish their final three years of MSU medical school. By 2010, the Secchia Center will officially open and 100 students will be enrolled at both the East Lansing and Grand Rapids campuses to begin their first year of medical school. This expansion of CHM will bump up the total number of students in CHM from 424 to 810 students by 2010. You’ll probably agree, L.A., this increase in numbers will help to increase the perception of MSU’s prestige with regard to its medical program.
The Secchia Center will house approximately 350 MSU College of Human Medicine students in its facilities, which will include 180,000 square feet of teaching labs, offices, classrooms and student areas, according to the MSU Newsroom. The students assigned to Grand Rapids will be taught in the Secchia Center, while those at MSU will continue to have their classes on the East Lansing campus.
“Being from the west side of the state, I am very excited that a medical school, which is really an expansion of a pre-existing med school, will be opening in Grand Rapids,” said Joshua Mastenbrook, graduate assistant for the Lyman Briggs College and first-year student with the College of Human Medicine. “This will offer a great opportunity for CHM to incorporate more research opportunities into the curriculum.”
But isn’t there a concern the medical students will receive different educations at the two separate locations, L.A? How can an equal education be guaranteed? The solution is a good one, L.A – each campus will have its own full-time staff to ensure information is delivered at both campuses at the same time. “My feeling is that the education will be very similar regardless of which campus a student attends,” Mastenbrook said. Medical school professors who will teach in the Secchia Center are currently commuting to MSU to learn proper teaching methods for the upcoming classes of second-year students set to arrive in Grand Rapids next fall.
But after living in East Lansing for four years during their undergraduate studies, Grand Rapids is surely much too far away for a student to go. Right? Not necessarily. Once it is time for a student to finish out their third and fourth years of medical school, a move to another location, such as the Upper Peninsula, Kalamazoo, Flint or Saginaw, is often needed anyway, “[These cities] have all been teaching third- and fourth-year MSUCHM students for decades,” said John O’Donnell, M.D. and assistant director for Block II Curriculum of CHM. “Students choosing MSUCHM have always expected that they were likely to finish the last two years of their education in a community away from East Lansing.” [meds2]
Having another place for med students to learn is a positive choice. “Anytime a medical school opens up spots for more students, it is a good thing,” Pre-Medical Association president and physiology senior Soud Sediqe said. “The more spots there are, the better one’s chances are of getting in.”
Your decision to open up a medical school in Grand Rapids for the CHM also helps solve an additional problem, L.A. More local hospital options for students to get their volunteer and residency experience will be available. With only two hospitals relatively close to MSU, opening a new building in Grand Rapids, close to a hospital, will help students when they are looking for a place to work. “I believe that [CHM] was the first community integrated medical school in the nation,” O’Donnell said. “When Michigan State University started the College of Human Medicine, the new idea at that time was to allow MSUCHM medical students to complete their third and fourth years of medical school in community settings instead of a university hospital.”
The Secchia Center will be conveniently located near Spectrum Health, Saint Mary’s Health Care and the Van Andel Research Institute, and will also collaborate with Grand Valley State University for continued teaching in health care. Spectrum and Saint Mary’s have also both established partnerships with MSU to help fund the bond in creating the Secchia Center itself, and the Van Andel Research Institute will work with students at the Secchia Center to advance research nationwide, according to the CHM communications department. And until now, Grand Rapids did not have its own medical school.
In addition, MSU’s new center will help to compensate for the growing number of medical school applicants in Michigan and throughout the country in a time when a lack of physicians is expected in the near future, according to a Blue Ribbon Committee study, which looked at the future of the physician workforce. “Increasing the class size helps to address this problem, while further integrating medical student education with a community campus,” O’Donnell said. According to the study, Michigan’s physician shortage is predicted to be higher than the national average: an 11.9 percent shortage in Michigan versus 7.9 percent nationwide. And by 2010, Michigan is expected to be short up to 900 physicians.
[secchia12]”MSUCHM is taking steps to ensure that the Michigan health care community continues to flourish by creating more resources for future physicians,” said Liz Sonntag, vice president of the Pre-Medical Association and a physiology senior with a specialization in bioethics, humanities, and society. “MSU is building state-of-the-art facilities to enhance the health care education in Michigan. The Grand Rapids location will not only benefit future medical students, but will continue to maintain the high standards that the Michigan State College of Human Medicine has upheld for years.”
Is everyone up for a move to Grand Rapids for an MSU medical school degree? Not quite, L.A., and some students do feel as though building the Secchia Center in Grand Rapids is an unnecessary move for the CHM, and things should stay as they are. “The idea of a new CHM center is a fine one, but that far away?” pre-med freshman Nicole Messenger said. “I just don’t like the idea of it being such a long commute.” Other students, especially those who are not pre-med, are not quite clear on the additional opportunities offered by the MSUCHM expansion. “I understand that the new medical school will allow more applicants to be admitted, but we still need to be wary on who is admitted into medical school,” business freshman Phil Weinberg said. “I don’t want the quality of Michigan doctors to go down now that more of them are being let in [to med school].”
However, other students are more supportive of the expansion. Paul Swiecicki, a graduate of the Lyman Briggs College with a degree in physiology, human biology and bioethics, humanities, and society (phew!), will be part of the first class to attend Grand Rapids for their second year of medical school. “I think students are eager to have the opportunity to do their pre-clinical years at the Secchia Center,” Swiecicki said. “We are also excited that the Secchia center and Grand Rapids in general will be excellent places to become more involved in cutting edge medical research.” [secchia13]
And about the Secchia center being too far away? Swiecicki does not think this is a matter of much concern. “I am thoroughly convinced that future classes will be extremely eager to utilize the opportunities and facilities afforded by the Secchia Center,” Swiecicki said. “The distance really doesn’t play a role as the campus will be self-contained. Choosing a medical school is like choosing any graduate school – they have to decide on whether the teaching style and community will fit best with them.”
The building of the Secchia Center is a good idea, L.A. You, and other university officials, were quick on your feet in deciding to build a new medical school facility to help compensate for the shortages in teaching facilities and physicians that is foreseen for the near future. Even better, this decision was made with the knowledge it would allow more applicants to be admitted into medical school. Maybe some pre-med students aren’t up for the move just yet, but, as they get further along in their schooling, they may come to appreciate the Secchia Center as a beneficial option.
“Many other medical schools around the nation have followed MSUCHM in establishing community campuses for their students,” O’Donnell said. “The current expansion of MSUCHM to Grand Rapids will add the first and second years of medical education to the largest MSUCHM community campus serving the largest population in our state outside of the Detroit area.”
Good job, L.A. Even with all its ongoing media attention, the reasons for building the Secchia Center in Grand Rapids could afford to be publicized even more. Some people may not be clear on issues such as why the center is so far away or who it’s being built for. What many people don’t seem to realize is many students already have to relocate to finish medical school or to begin their medical careers after school. Moving to Grand Rapids to do so may be the perfect choice for some. Perhaps medical school isn’t chock-full of television’s dramatic medical experiences, but being given the opportunity to continue in the medical field in Grand Rapids might be excitement enough.

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