News and Commentary Macy Faculty Scholar Charles Vega on Bringing the Patient to the Forefront of Education

Charles Vega, MD, of the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, discusses his new longitudinal curriculum that gets students out of the classroom and in front of real patients.

What are you working on as a Macy Faculty Scholar and why is it important?
Medical education has focused traditionally on first learning the science of medicine and then going out and practicing that on real patients. This model has been in place for over one hundred years and it has served us fairly well. At UC Irvine, however, we are thinking about health and well-being differently. A lot of schools are trying to integrate basic and clinical sciences together, and even though that’s important, I am trying take that another step further and put the patient at the front of everything we do educationally.

To do this, I will bring the Patient-Centered Advanced Clinical Education (PACE) curriculum to UC Irvine, and build more clinical experiences into the first two years of medical school and have a much stronger focus on patient management and population health management.

The healthcare system is changing and our education system has to change with it. We need to always keep the patient in mind and use that to drive care.

How will you do this?
During the first and second years of med school, students at UC Irvine will spend half a day weekly in local practice settings, both university- and community-based practices. Students will apply what they learn in lectures with patients and work on quality improvement projects to improve healthcare delivery and learn how they themselves can affect health systems.

My hope is to launch this in the fall of 2015 for the entire incoming class of students.

What are your ultimate goals for this project?
I ultimately want this to spread across UC Irvine and include the entire medical school (all four classes) and other health education programs. I would then like to see third- and fourth-year students who have gone through the program come back and help teach. I would have them lead first- and second-year students through some of the site visits and help run the program.

This seems like a big change for your institution. How did you get buy-in?
We have strong leadership in medical education that believes in this model. They understand that a program like this cannot be elective, and that we need to do something for the good of our students, for the good of our school and, ultimately, for the good of our community.

That’s where that view on the patient is so helpful, because once you have that as your North Star, it’s difficult to go wrong and it’s difficult to argue against if you are trying to practice in a patient-centered way.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
The Scholar Program is going to help me get this done. With support from both the peer group and Macy staff, I’ll be able to see the curves ahead and navigate them successfully.

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