Two campuses. One program.

“Two campuses. One program.”

It’s become the unofficial mantra of Schulich Medicine’s Undergraduate Medical Education (UME) Program.

And what goes on behind the scenes creates the foundation for the Program and supports the mantra in every way possible.

There is one dean and a single governance model, one admissions model, one curriculum governed by a single UME Curriculum Committee, and one team delivering the program. And when an opportunity presents itself for change, it is approached collectively with faculty and students in London and Windsor collaborating effectively together as they design and implement the change.

There is also one class in each of the four years of the program who consider themselves to be more than just classmates. “We feel like one family of 171 people despite the geography separating some of us,” said Mike Pignanelli, Medicine Class of 2018. “In fact, the distance does make the heart grow fonder.”

Kristin Chow, Medicine Class of 2015, agrees. “I’m always surprised to learn that people from other schools with satellite campuses don’t really know their colleagues at those campuses,” said Chow. “Rather than feeling like two separate classes, I feel like we are truly one class on two campuses.”

Dr. Gary Tithecott, associate dean, UME, believes that the concept of “one class” across a distributed program is unique in Canada. “One thing we value of Schulich Medicine’s uniqueness is that our students see themselves belonging to and functioning as one class. They all see themselves as Western medical students.”

Since the establishment of the Schulich Medicine Windsor campus, the goal has been to deliver an equivalent experience for learners. While there are bound to be nuances and differences, due to size and community culture, the experiences are the same. “There are no inequities between the two campuses in terms of experiences or activities,” said Pignanelli.

Achieving this level of success across a distributed model is the result of strong buy-in from leadership.

Gerry Cooper, associate dean of the Windsor Program, and Dr. Tithecott agree that this has existed since the establishment of the Windsor campus. “Strong support from leaders at Western University and the University of Windsor have paved the way for this close relationship,” said Dr. Tithecott. “Indeed throughout Dr. Strong’s first term, he supported the vision by his presence at many sessions and by steering the implementation of processes that drive a successful distributed learning strategy.”

This commitment is evidenced in the School’s strategic plan shaped by the dean, senior leadership, faculty and learners. Further, the success of the two-campus model is serving as a springboard for our School renewing distributed learning throughout our region with our new DME Strategic Plan.

A key success factor is the School‘s use of high-end videoconference technology to support learners across both campuses, a commitment to joint leadership at the course level, and engagement from faculty and students from both campuses at the committee level. Strong communication and a spirit of collaboration have helped to achieve a balanced program on all fronts.

The question that often arises is the value of this model of “one program, two campuses” and whether it has enriched the education of learners while achieving the goals set out at the creation of the Windsor campus.
Cooper believes that we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor.

This is especially true as it relates to the previous physician shortage in the Windsor region, which was one of the considerations behind the establishment of the campus in Windsor. “We are starting to discover that medical students and residents are staying here to practice,” said Cooper. In addition to that, physicians are more favorably considering relocating to Windsor because they want to be involved with a medical school.

Dr. Tithecott believes that the diversity of the undergraduate classes has been enriched through the two-campus model. “We have attracted a different type of student, and are proud of the unique demographics in our classes,” he said.

Further, the fact that students are out in communities across Southwestern Ontario has enriched the health care in the region and the exposure to different communities for our students has in turn enriched their educational experience.

Most recently, through the efforts of students from both campuses, the Windsor campus was awarded the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS) Annual General Meeting in September 2015. This was the first time in Canada a distributed site was chosen to host the meeting – a significant achievement for the students and the Program.

Of course no program exists without its challenges.

As he looks to the future, Dr. Tithecott believes that the Program will reinvest in new innovative technology to continue delivering a revitalized curriculum. More broadly, the School and Program will come to terms with educating students to become physicians that meet the needs of our region, province and country.

In the end, however, Dr. Tithecott said this is an investment in education to improve our health care future. This means making decisions to support students and faculty in every way possible.

And the student voice is a highly valued and important one to hear in these discussions.

Pignanelli is at the beginning of his UME experience in Windsor, while Chow is just months away from convocation, having spent her four years in London – and yet their opinions on the program mirror one another.

Pignanelli believes that if you choose Schulich Medicine, you choose the freedom and direction to be a better version of yourself. “Faculty work tirelessly – true to the values of Southwestern Ontario – to help you define what better means to you,” he said. “For me, that makes all the difference in the world.”

“Schulich Medicine is an amazing School,” said Chow. “The responsiveness of the faculty to student concerns, the enthusiasm of faculty to teach and mentor students is incredible.”