Ohio med school and medical board team up to teach professionalism

Students get a firsthand look at board activities and give the experience high grades.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted July 27, 2009

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Within days of receiving their white coats, medical students at Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine learned about avoiding ethical missteps and correcting behaviors that could lead to charges of professional misconduct.

The instruction was part of Partners in Professionalism, an initiative designed to educate students on the responsibilities that come with a medical degree. The program is a joint effort of the college and the State Medical Board of Ohio.

Since September 2007, every first-year medical student at OU-COM has been required to enroll in the program, which is part of the college's Clinical and Community Experiences. The course emerged from a brainstorming session between Richard Whitehouse, the board's executive director, and OU-COM Dean John Brose, DO.

The inspiration was a 2005 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that caught Whitehouse's eye. The article concluded that unprofessional behavior by medical students was a precursor to disciplinary problems when they became practicing physicians.

"It seemed if you can incorporate into the psyche of these students the idea of professionalism and ethics early on, they can address problems they may already have and understand how these problems may end up bringing them before the board," Whitehouse said.

The centerpiece of the program is a field trip to attend a board meeting in Columbus. Ten to 15 students attend each month. So far, about 220 students have taken the course.

"Even the students who were wondering if it would be worthwhile come back raving about the experience and how much they have learned from watching the board function and from listening to the physicians who have gotten themselves into some difficulties," Dr. Brose said.

In anonymous feedback gathered by program coordinators, one student said, "It put a human face on the medical board. They are no longer a frightening entity that swoops down and takes the licenses of physicians."

A game of "Jeopardy"

To prepare students for the board meeting, Whitehouse and another staff member travel to the college to provide background on administrative law and the board's procedures and vocabulary.

They also play "Medical Board Jeopardy" with students. One of the answers: "A privilege which, if practiced by untrained, unscrupulous, or incompetent persons, is so potentially dangerous to the public that it requires comprehensive regulation." The correct question is, "What is the practice of medicine?"

Dr. Brose wants students to understand that the medical board is not just a punitive organization but also helps physicians with problems such as substance abuse.

The deans of other Ohio medical schools have expressed interest in the program, but the logistics pose obstacles, Whitehouse said. For one thing, it's a long drive from some of the schools to board meetings. And seating more students in the board's hearing room would mean a tight fit.

For now, Whitehouse is looking at recording the meetings or relaying them via live feed to the other schools.

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