New Med School Tracks Focus on Literature, Population Health

To provide increasingly specialized experiences for its students, the Georgetown University School of Medicine is adding two new tracks focusing on population health and literature to its curriculum in the upcoming academic year.

Specialized tracks allow students the option of focusing on a particular field, eventually leading to a certificate in their interest in addition to the medical degree in their final year. Declared during the first year of medical school, the tracks are not mandated parts of the school’s curriculum.

The two new specializations, called the Population Health Scholar Track and the Literature and Medicine Track, will supplement the School of Medicine’s two existing tracks that debuted in the 2014-2015 academic year, one of which centers on academic research and the other which caters to students with an interest in social justice and health advocacy.

According to Population Health Scholar Track Director Yumi Shitama Jarris, all four tracks will likely enroll less than one-fourth of the school’s students. However, the School of Medicine is moving forward with plans to add more tracks, including one on global health, for students to explore their specialized interests.

Jarris said the Population Health Scholar Track was developed in response to the increased need to be aware of social determinants of health across different groups within the country’s population.

“Normally when you think of a medical education, you think of the individual doctor-patient relationship,” Jarris said. “Population health is an addition to this — we’re helping groups of people, looking at ways to optimize their health. We need to look at whether or not a person lives in poverty, in an environment that’s safe, if they have access to fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s not just looking at the outcomes, but also their distribution and trying to address health disparities.”

The track accepted eight second-year students and will begin on June 1 with an eight-week summer practicum that aims to develop research skills and familiarize students with the use of population health data. Each student will have both a research mentor and a faculty adviser for their projects.

“Some of them will be doing it with a public health agency or association, in a hospital setting, or a practice setting,” Jarris said. “Every senior medical student has to complete an independent study project before graduation, so these students will continue to work on these projects, which will then become their final capstone.”

Accepted student Jack Penner (MED ’18) said that he was interested in connecting individual clinical medicine with the wider issues of population health through the new specialized track.

“A doctor should go beyond just one-on-one patient visits, and try to make an effort to impact populations as a whole, which goes back to Georgetown’s motto of cura personalis,” Penner said. “I’ve always been very interested in preventative medicine and intervention outside the doctor’s office that can impact patients, and this is a really great opportunity for a first-year student.”

Literature and Medicine Track Director Daniel Marchalik has been teaching an elective course on literature in medicine for the past three years. He said the success of the course prompted the initiation of the new track, which explores the intersection of medicine and literature and emphasizes patient backgrounds in medical care.

“It’s been a whopping success, with probably 30 or so students in the class every year,” Marchalik said. “The students have greatly benefited from it, and I think a lot of them have really wanted to get more deeply involved in literature and medicine. A comprehensive track would give them the chance to pursue a literary project while at medical school.”

The three-part structure of the track, which begins the coming academic year, will consist of four years of the Literature and Medicine course, a capstone and narrative medicine seminars. Students will pursue the capstone with a faculty mentor and present it at the end of their fourth year at a research symposium.

Marchalik emphasized the importance of the Literature and Medicine Track in providing an opportunity for students to explore their interests in relation to medicine, particularly focusing on the importance of understanding narratives.

“What literature does is it teaches students to think about stories in a very particular way,” Marchalik said. “This ability to be comfortable with narratives I think translates incredibly well to what medical students have to do as doctors. For people who love literature, that ability to come together, and realize you have this common interest, especially against the pressures of medical school, I think is very important to have.”

Claire McDaniel (COL ’14, MED ’19) highlighted her interest in the Literature and Medicine Track and the balance it would provide in her life as a medical student.

“On the very basic level, it will help me in communications both with my fellow medical students and with my future colleagues,” McDaniel said. “But I also want to just gain a sense of balance in my life, because medical school is all out, all the time, and I love it, but it can get a little overwhelming. It’s nice to balance it with something completely different.”

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