New learning space prepares students to become better physicians

Photo of the exterior of the MU School of Medicine's Patient-Centered Care Learning Center.
The new medical education building officially opened in July 2017. The Patient-Centered Care Learning Center and a new medical school campus in Springfield have accommodated an increase in medical students at the University of Missouri.

Second-year medical student Sam McMillen didn’t particularly enjoy the windowless basement labs where he spent his first year at the MU School of Medicine

“It felt a little hard to spend extended time in that environment,” McMillen said.

But McMillen and other first-year medical students did spend a lot of hours – 10 to 12 each school day – in that dark, crowded learning space. 

Now as a second-year medical student, McMillen is among the first students to learn in a new medical education building, the Patient-Centered Care Learning Center. Although the new building has better aesthetics and more natural light, it’s the student-focused design, features and technology that will enhance student learning and prepare McMillen and his classmates to become better physicians.

“There are so many implicit themes in the building’s design and purpose,” Lauren Gillespie, another second-year medical student, said. “The open floor plans support the qualities that make up patient-centered care: communication, collaboration, partnership and openness.”

You won’t find a traditional lecture hall in the building. Instead, flexible classrooms and study areas have movable tables and chairs that students easily can reconfigure to accommodate discussion groups. In the anatomy labs, instructors can magnify and display what they are doing so all students can see clearly. Previously, students crowded around the dissection tables to observe.

Laine Young-Walker, MD, an alumna and associate dean for student programs at the school, said the labs where she learned as a student in the 90s and later taught could be isolating for students. 

“As a psychiatrist, I know the environmental impact on motivation, drive and desire is huge,” she said. “The aesthetics of the new building promote more engagement and more positivity. Now, there’s increased camaraderie and opportunities to meet people the students might not have had opportunity to otherwise. They can study with and learn from others – experience more diversity
and inclusivity.”

Communication and collaboration are key traits students will need as physicians, and opportunities to practice those skills are embedded within the curriculum, Young-Walker said.

In patient-based learning, students work through clinical cases in small discussion groups. Later, students practice their interviewing and diagnostic skills with role-playing patients. The new building provides additional room for these activities – from more discussion rooms to technologically equipped exam rooms – so instructors can observe students’ conversations with the patient actors.    

“Patient-based learning is a very memorable way to learn — learning things in the context of real patients,” Gillespie said. “It fosters qualities and communication skills throughout the process that are going to be instrumental to how we practice as physicians in the future.”

The building’s design and decorative elements also remind students of the people they’ll serve as physicians. 

On the fifth and sixth floors, artistic overlays on glass doors feature real Missourians. The images represent the diversity of patients cared for by Missouri-trained physicians and serve as constant reminders to put patients first. 

“Patients are the whole reason we’re in medicine,” McMillen said. “If we’re not bringing it 100 percent for them and what they need, then it’s not worth it. We’re set up early with exposure to how to practice medicine.”

“[Patient-based learning] fosters qualities and communication skills throughout the process that are going to be instrumental to how we practice as physicians in the future.” 

- Lauren Gillespie, second-year medical student