Tag: physician assistant
I’ve heard it said that the best way to become immortal is to become an academic program. Once instituted, they can never be eliminated – the politics become too heated to consider such a fate, no matter the common sense of such a decision. I think that is one of the great weaknesses of academic institutions – the tendency to let history and tradition interfere with market realities and the needs for the future. We should spend more time listening to the futurists who tell us the most sought-after jobs of the next 20 years (the sweet spot of our graduates’ careers) are not even on our radar screen today. How can old programs focused on old job descriptions and unaware of any of this possibly be preparing students to be agile and versatile graduates?
But we may be entering a time where dropping ineffective academic programs will be more common. The backlash against rising tuition costs and student debt, and the decreased funding for higher education from state and federal sources will cause many institutions to ask which programs are worth paying for and which can be eliminated to make limited bucks go farther. We are already seeing many colleges and universities scaling back on the programs they offer, and the trend is bound to only grow! How can we make our programs those that are “worth keeping” in an atmosphere of cuts and reductions?
I have some ideas on what we should be doing to shape our programs to be programs worth keeping, should our institutions ever find themselves in the position to need to rethink their programs. So here are some qualities I believe are central to programs worth keeping…
1. Programs worth keeping can attract students. It makes no sense for a college to deliver a major nobody wants. Go into any store in town and ask to purchase a slide rule or a 5.25″ floppy disk. Those were hot items at one time. That time is long gone. Are you clinging to what was important to you instead of what is important to potential students? Our programs have to offer relevant programs of obvious value to the student or they will not attract students. How can a college justify keeping a program with more faculty than majors? So why not look at what futurists say about where job growth is headed and realize the importance of preparing our students to enter one of these fields? Talk to Admissions Counselors to see what programs high-schoolers are asking about? Consider modifying their programs to attract new students? And a program better be good at selling its value! Any program that cannot drum up excitement in prospective students will soon snuff out whatever excitement they brought to campus as freshmen. Good programs have a product with value and they know how to build enthusiasm for potential (and current) customers. Programs that are expendable don’t get this point. If you are the rare individual who happens to wander into their “store” wanting their rare and unpopular product, they will serve you (who initiates the actions here?). But these programs are not centering their time and energy on the future and promotion of their products! Want to know why BIMS is one of the programs recruiting the most freshmen every year? It is because we shaped our program to focus on the sweet-spot of future job growth and thus have something to sell that has value. And we sell an approach to education that is refreshing and new and proven to be successful.
2. Programs worth keeping take risks. Show me any successful person and I will show you someone who has taken a risk and succeeded. If you ask them, they will also tell you there were plenty of setbacks along the way. Perseverance and learning from mistakes turns risk into a growth opportunity leading to success. Too often, faculty will tell students there is one right way of doing things and penalize them for finding another route to the same end. That is just plain foolish. Nobody makes a new discovery by following the same tried and true paths. The two most important words for success are, “What if…” We should encourage our students to “boldly go where no man has gone before…” Don’t just tolerate risk – encourage it! Let them take risks in the safety of our labs under our supervision. They take ownership, find pride in the results, and occasionally make a discovery that proves to be more important than they could have guessed. This is a foundational reason we do open-ended research in our normal BIMS classes. We are cultivating an environment for risk-taking, where it is rewarded instead of being punished. Contrast this attitude to one where those students thinking “outside the box” or taking a bit longer to master a concept are summarily dismissed as “not being suited to a career in science”. Which program is more likely to cultivate a generation of world-changers?
3. Programs worth keeping can demonstrate success. I think a lot of programs are more “Wizard of Oz” than anything else. Lots of animation and smoke and mirrors – plenty of activity with very little substance to show for their work. At the end of the day, what has a program accomplished? Are graduates more likely to pursue and be successful in graduate programs or professional schools or discipline-related employment? Or do they abandon science? Ask faculty teaching undergraduates at many colleges around the country where there graduates are, and more than likely they can point to the success of a handful of their stars. They tend to equate the success of a few with the success of the program. At McMurry, our BIMS program can tell you where every BIMS graduate has gone and is doing. Granted, the number is small for the young program. But we know the importance in tracking every graduate, using feedback to help shape and improve our major. So far, our graduates have entered medical school, physician’s assistant programs, and graduate programs, or they are in the application process to do so. The success we have seen (and can relate to anyone interested) proves this program is more than satisfying its purpose of preparing graduates for lives in the biomedical sciences. Programs not interested in such work or unwilling to expend the effort will have a hard time proving the quality of their effort. And it makes one wonder whether they are programs worth keeping.
4. Programs worth keeping teach the process of using skills of the major to accomplish something. It was interesting to hear from a researcher friend at a professional school of his experience hiring a technician for his lab. He said he had applicants with high gpas and degrees from major universities who looked great on paper but who couldn’t do anything in the lab. Knowledge level was high, but skills level was nonexistent. Why? Too many programs believe filling a head with facts equates to readying someone for the workforce. At McMurry, we want our graduates to be able to tell their prospective bosses (or graduate advisors or professional school admissions committees) what they can DO as well as what they know. Ever sequence a gene? Yes, as part of my senior capstone project. (vs. No, but I know the theory behind the process). Ever do a Western blot? Yes, as part of my senior capstone project. (vs. We did it once during my Molecular Biology lab). Our students should know both theory and practice; not just theory. Want evidence? Take a look at their senior capstone presentation! How does your program stack up in this way?
5. Programs worth keeping establish a master-apprentice relationship. Finally, we believe it is important to build a professional working relationship with every student in the BIMS program. That is why a senior capstone project is required of each student. Often, we find that there are students who did not distinguish themselves as outstanding in traditional courses but who are found by their faculty mentor to have exceptional instinct and aptitude for research. This would have gone undiscovered if not for the capstone research with faculty. Big schools will sometimes encourage their selected star students to work as technicians in their research labs – supervised by graduate students or post-docs. We don’t have graduate students or post-docs, so we have the great pleasure of allowing our students to step up into those roles for a deeper and more complete involvement in a research project. Our students are research designers, hands-on technicians, data analyzers, and project presenters all rolled into one. They experience all facets of research from thought expressed on whiteboard to poster presented at scientific meeting. Every step is modeled and overseen by a faculty supervisor teaching those lessons not found in any textbook. Hard to argue that this is not a better research experience! We hear often from graduates in professional school or grad school that their classmates from other colleges are intimidated by faculty and have difficulty approaching them when troubles arise. Not our students, who understand what it means to have a healthy, respectful, and productive professional relationship with faculty. Such extraordinary experiences make these programs worth keeping – more value-added time is spent shaping students for future success than is commonly encountered. Campus programs that do not follow this path and prepare students in this way seem to be short-changing their students.
And so there you have it. Five qualities that lead to programs worth keeping. May your programs grow to adopt them!
Over the Christmas holidays our BIMS faculty got many email greetings from former students. One, however, included a phrase that completely went over my head. Salvador Prieto is a recent McMurry graduate who is going to physician’s assistant school in Virginia. In his holiday greeting to Dr. Larry Sharp (and shared with the rest of us) he made a special effort to thank him for SAME DAVE. Seems that phrase was greatly appreciated by Sal and his classmates in their studies.
I had to ask Larry what that was about, and here’s his response:
Sal is referring to mnemonics that are used to help keep some basic neurological concepts straight.
Sensory information from the periphery, to the brain is afferent; while motor information from the brain to the periphery is efferent…this is confusing and is easily kept straight by the mnemonic SAME, representing sensory, afferent, motor, efferent information.
When talking about spinal nerve roots exiting the front or ventral horn of the spinal cord; and spinal nerve roots exiting the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, there is some confusion as to their actual function. Ventral nerve roots are for motor or efferent information; while dorsal nerve roots are for sensory or afferent information. This is always confusing to students, so an easy way to keep this straight is the mnemonic DAVE. Now, linking them both together, you have SAME DAVE, which will let you know function based on location: Sensory or Afferent information is always carried by the Dorsal nerve roots and Motor or Efferent information is always carried by the Ventral nerve roots.
You can now take this one step further when analyzing the pre- and post-synaptic neurons and recognize that the dorsal root ganglia are a collection of cell bodies outside the central nervous system, whose function is to transmit afferent or sensory information and thus are sensory neurons.
There you have it – SAME DAVE and its importance to students eager to learn about how the nervous system works. Just another example of how Larry’s Human Physiology course is preparing students for health professions schools.
The BIMS program is too new to have any graduates with a BS in Biomedical Science degree. However several of the most recent McMurry graduates with other majors were heavily involved in BIMS courses.
Derek David distinguished himself on the baseball diamond and in the classroom. As a player he was named the NCAA Division III Baseball Player of the Year for 2008 in his final year of eligibility. This year, he took Genetics, Molecular Biology, and Microbiology among his courses to finish out his Biochemistry degree. He begins his Doctor of Pharmacy degree in the fall.
Salvador Prieto was born in Mexico but raised in Texas. His Biology major was filled with BIMS courses as he prepared for a career in the medical profession. During his junior year, he made the decision to pursue Physician Assistant training rather than the MD. This fall he will begin the Masters in Physician Assistant program at Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, VA.
Whitney Truran graduated in December after completing her Biology degree and playing golf for McMurry. An avid baseball and basketball fan, she was frequently seen talking sports with Dr. Tom Benoit and others when she was not hard at work as a lab assistant for the department. This fall she begins a career as teacher and coach in the Houston area where her knowledge of biology and exceptional interpersonal skills should make her an instant success and highly effective teacher.
There are other stories to be told, but they will have to wait for a future post.