As we recently sat across the table from Dr. Stuart D. Flynn, the dean of a new medical school being launched in Fort Worth, we couldn’t help but think of a classic New Yorker cartoon. The drawing features a man looking down at a cat next to a litter box and saying “Never, ever think outside of the box.”
Flynn has been thinking outside of the box most of his career, much to the chagrin of some folks in his profession. His latest project is also likely to lead to some stern looks — or worse — even as it breaks apart old ideas on how to train doctors in a world where medicine is changing.
Simply building a new medical school in this region is a bold and important step forward. The history and service of UT Southwestern are second to none. But one school can only do so much. And North Texas needs not only additional space for medical students, but also another place to train residents. This school gives us that opportunity.
Flynn’s new school is recruiting its first class now. And it has a very different approach from other schools. For example, it’s eschewing typical lecture-style classes. Instead students will watch podcasts and then come in for hands-on instruction.
And rather than subjecting students to a large volume of patients they never really get to know, the school is embracing a model that will pair students with practicing physicians. Essentially, the students will become a member of a doctor’s practice, where they will get plenty of exposure to patients whom they will also get to know personally. This will enable students to see how conditions improve or evolve over time.
If these ideas seem like common sense, they are a break from the more traditional model embraced by medical schools for the past century. And to hear Flynn tell it, the idea is bigger than just trying something new. The aim is to ensure students get a quality education while also enhancing other critical skill sets, such as empathy and communications.
Truth be told, doctors tend to arrive with more than a little empathy. The hope is that this type of education will help docs keep an eye on the whole patient — the actual human whose quality of life hangs in the balance — even while tackling acute or chronic conditions. In a world that is shifting away from fee-for-service models to an approach that seeks to improve patient health, the work to be done at this school is likely to become increasingly important.
As for communications, we suspect we don’t need to belabor the importance of enhancing that skill in any profession, including medicine. Under Flynn, the budding docs will learn how important it is to spend just 90 seconds listening to patients before diving in with penetrating questions. People want to be heard, especially when it involves their health.
We can see a few places the school might improve, such as coming up with a better name. Currently, the one they are running with is the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine. Texas Christian University is the school of record for this accredited medical school, and the University of North Texas Health Science Center is a crucial partner that will likely play a larger role as time goes on.
But at this early stage, we’re optimistic. It is likely other schools will learn from the new model this school offers. In any case, this school will help the metro area attract more medical professionals at a time when we have a shortage of doctors. And that can only make us better off.