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College of Medicine Encourages Mentoring with Learning Communities

Students from each MPOWER house became acquainted during orientation activities. Pictured are members of the Diggs House. (Photo courtesy of College of Medicine)

Even before she was in her current position, Susan Brewer, MD, knew she wanted to bring learning communities to students in the College of Medicine.

Once she became associate dean for Student Affairs, Dr. Brewer set a plan in motion. The UTHSC MPOWER program was born, with collaboration from faculty and staff, including Matthew Ennis, PhD, MA, professor and chair of Anatomy and Neurobiology; Courtney Cook, MA, director of Career Counseling; Taylor Smith, MA, senior administrative services assistant; Debbey Hester, program coordinator and Student Affairs veteran, as well as with students and members of the Gold Humanism Honor Society.

Through MPOWER, each entering cohort belongs to a community that will follow them from orientation to graduation, fostering academic excellence by exploring six dimensions of wellness — occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional.

During orientation, students are sorted according to backgrounds into team-based learning groups and then paired into MPOWER Houses. Each house will have a diverse group of students with different strengths and interests.

The houses, named after notable UTHSC alumni and faculty, are the Conyers York House, Crawford House, Diggs House, and Seddon House.

“We knew that we wanted to have something that students had a big part of,” Dr. Brewer said.

Andrew Johnston, MD, and Tyler Emerson, MD, who graduated in May, and fourth-year medical student Colby Passaro were involved in developing MPOWER. They wanted the program to capitalize on the already strong tradition of mentoring among students in the College of Medicine. Organizers eventually decided the program would focus on mentoring, but also professionalism, opportunity, wellness, excellence, and research.

“We wanted to make mentoring and professionalism a big part of it,” Dr. Brewer said. “There was a wellness curriculum that was developing independently that we incorporated into this. Research was another. There is a demand for access to research programs for students, and we wanted to make it a lot easier.”

Dr. Ennis leads the research focus of the learning communities. He has recruited faculty and identified funding resources for students interested in research. The SCORE (Student Committee on Research in Education) website will be updated with available resources for students.

Students from the Conyers York House gathered during orientation. (Photo courtesy of College of Medicine)

Since mentorship is at the heart of MPOWER, each house has at least seven faculty mentors, who meet one-on-one with M1 students to discuss professional and personal development. Each faculty adviser has a support team of 15 to 17 second- through fourth-year medical students, who serve as peer advisers and address the demands and stresses of daily academic life and career choice.

Two resident mentors serve in leadership roles within each house. Other mentors from various years will also be available.

“The goal for mentors is there are different seasons and different issues that you need to navigate as a medical student,” Dr. Johnston said. “We thought, the more information and the more people we can get in front of students to talk about those transitions and how to do that well and how to navigate those stressors, the more successful we will be. All of us are very excited for this new system, and hopefully it will help students in the College of Medicine be successful in many ways.”

As part of house identity and cohesiveness, students will have the opportunity to adopt a charity or outreach and participate in a community service or fund-raising project. This will be a competition among the houses. “Not only will students benefit from the learning communities, but the Memphis community will benefit as well,” said Cook, from career counseling.

Activities are planned throughout the year, including a minimum of four social gatherings to foster social wellness. Several sessions will focus on wellness topics through large-group sessions, peer-to-peer sessions, and house activities with guest speakers.

The Class of 2021 was the first cohort to benefit from the program, during its development stage. “With our rising M2 (Class of 2021), they are remaining in the learning community until they graduate,” Cook said. “It’s not just something for their first year. Their third- and fourth-year schedule may not necessarily align, but they will still have the support and resources available to them.”

The program was implemented with the entering fall cohort. Hopes are that through successes, the program will receive funding from the university.

“I envision a time where our learning communities have designated spaces where they can meet,” Dr. Brewer said. “I would really love to see that in the future.”

The MPOWER Houses:

The MPOWER houses are named after notable UTHSC alumni and faculty. Pictured left to right are Alvin Crawford, MD, Sara Conyers York, MD, Lemuel W. Diggs, MD, and Rhea Seddon, MD. (Photos courtesy of Dr. Crawford, Dr. Seddon, and the UTHSC Health Sciences Library Historical Collections)

Crawford House: In 1964, Alvin Crawford, MD, became the first African-American graduate of the UTHSC College of Medicine. Dr. Crawford is an award-winning pediatric orthopedic physician specializing in treating scoliosis and spine abnormalities.

Conyers York House: Admitted to the UTHSC College of Medicine at age 32, Sara Conyers York, MD, was the first women to graduate with a medical degree from UTHSC. Dr. Conyers York graduated first in her class in 1913 and promptly became an instructor in physiology for both the College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy and an instructor in pharmacology for the College of Medicine.

Diggs House: Lemuel W. Diggs, MD, started at then-UT-Memphis in 1929 and spent most of his career as a faculty member of the Pathology Institute, investigating sickle cell anemia. He encountered patients suffering from sickle cell disease in his first few days on the job and went on to make it his life’s work. His abiding interest led to the country’s first comprehensive research center on sickle cell disease established at UT-Memphis in 1971.

Seddon House: A trailblazer for advancing women in medicine, Rhea Seddon, MD, became one of the first six women accepted by NASA and the first female surgeon in space. An alumna of the College of Medicine, Class of 1973, Dr. Seddon worked for NASA for 19 years.

Note: This story is from the most recent issue of Medicine magazine.