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International virtual medical school moves forward with online curriculum

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Oct. 25, 2004

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First announced two years ago, the International Virtual Medical School (IVIMEDS) is slowly getting off the ground. Hull York Medical School in Britain, a new medical school opened to help alleviate a shortage of physicians in the United Kingdom, piloted the program for the first time last year. The entire four-year IVIMEDS curriculum is expected to be finished in 2006.

The project is more than text on a computer screen. Students are introduced to a number of virtual patients and can access such things as the patient's x-rays or audio of heartbeats. The course work is developed around organ systems, the first one being the cardiovascular system.

The program is expected to be used as a tool for brick-and-mortar medical schools, not as an entirely online education. It might run parallel to traditional on-site programs, with students studying from home until they need to move to the school for clinical work. It could also serve schools in developing countries by bringing the e-curriculum into their medical centers. Students wouldn't have to leave the country for medical training, and their clinical experience would be more culturally relevant.

Family physician Stephen Smith, MD, associate dean for medical education at Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I., created the patients used in the virtual practice. He said one of the advantages to having such a computer-based curriculum is that it makes it more feasible for schools to expand.

"You don't have to hire a lot of new faculty," he said. "Brown is bursting at the seams. There's no physical capability to enlarge the class. There may be a way to expand through distance learning."

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2004/10/25/prbf1025.htm.

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