At the Georgetown University Medical Center, a group of students study medicine and health without the goal of becoming doctors.
The Mini-Medical School was born out of an effort to relieve student-neighbor tensions 18 years ago.
“There was a lot of unrest. The students were disruptive, and we wanted to show the local community that Georgetown has a place as an educational institution that has something to offer everybody,” Mini-Medical School Co-Director Herbert Herscowitz, a professor of microbiology and immunology, said. “It was really community outreach to appease them. It also gave us an opportunity to show off what we did to the community. The hospital was in a little bit of financial trouble at that time, and we thought if people saw what can be done at Georgetown, that might boost some business at the hospital as well.”
The course attempts to mimic a formal medical school curriculum by splitting the semester, which includes eight lectures, between the basic and clinical sciences, using the same material as the School of Medicine. Topics vary based on students’ requests, with this semester’s including anatomy, pharmacology, mind-body medicine, infectious diseases, psychiatry, dermatology, orthopedic surgery, obstetric care and genetics.
Each class is two hours long and generally contains a lecture with a question-and-answer session.
“For us, this is service,” Mini-Medical School Co-Director Carlos Suarez-Quian, a professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, said. “We don’t get compensated in any way, shape or form when we speak to the public. … When we ask faculty to do it, nobody ever says no to us, and nobody ever refuses to come back a second time.”
Students are also exposed to hands-on learning experiences, such as a session where current medical students present various cadavers. Upon completion of the program, participants receive a “Doctor of Mini-Medicine” certificate.
Five-time Mini-Medical student Chick Anderson emphasized the applicability of the information learned through the program.
“There was an advertisement in The Washington Post about three years ago that said, ‘Hey, do you ever wonder what those doctors are talking about?’” Anderson said. “At that time, my mother was having a lot of medical problems, so it seemed like it was designed especially for me.”
Participants in the course hail from an array of backgrounds, professions and ages, from retirees curious about health issues to high-school students attracted to the pre-med track.
“The first time I came, the first night, I was surprised. I was expecting to see about a hundred octogenarians, and there were a lot of young people, so I was very pleased to see the age spread, and I wondered whether most of these young people are actually studying to be doctors,” Mini-Medical student Anthony Turner said.
David Chin (COL ’12) was one of those students.
“I already knew a long time ago that I wanted to apply to medical school — this was just to keep myself active and just keep learning,” Chin said.
Thanks to the knowledge that Mini-Medical School provides, Anderson said that learning about the body and drugs in the program inspired him to stop taking many of his medications and to change his diet and exercise.
“I lost 20 pounds. My cholesterol went down. My blood pressure went down,” he said. “Last week, I went and told the professor, ‘You changed my life 18 months ago because of your class.’”
Two-time Mini-Medical student Sally Smith said that the program would help prepare her for future medical issues and communicate more effectively with her doctors.
“I have a better idea of what’s going on and questions that I can ask,” she said. “There’s a lot of practical knowledge, background knowledge that’s really important, I think, so if certain issues come up, at least you’ve got a little more background so that you can ask more appropriate questions.”
According to Suarez-Quian, the program’s popularity has only increased over the years, and the program has met its 200-person capacity each semester. Some students have attended at least one semester of each year for the past 10 years.
“What’s surprising to me is how dedicated some of these students that attend have been. In fact, we jokingly say, ‘Oh, we have our groupies,’” Suarez-Quian said.