The new University of Texas Dell Medical School is scheduled to admit its first class in 2016, but that's not stopping today's students from having access to top-notch medical education and training.
We visited three programs on the Forty Acres where students are already gaining valuable clinical experience while providing care for fellow Longhorns.
University Health Services
Patients who visit any one of University Health Services' (UHS) many clinics know the drill. A friendly staff member leads you into a room, verifies your basic information, checks your vital signs and prepares you for your appointment. The routine is carried out so knowledgeably that it is easy to forget the person performing it is a student, perhaps even younger than the patient.
The students of the UHS Clinic Volunteer Program are perfectly comfortable in a clinical setting. That's because unlike other health-related volunteer positions that require an initial period of administrative work, UHS volunteers begin their clinical training immediately. After about one month, volunteers begin handling patient intake, including measuring blood pressure and heart rate, checking vision and entering patient documentation into the computerized system.
Because any UT student, regardless of major, can apply, the UHS volunteers are a diverse group. While the typical volunteer is in a health-related academic program, UHS welcomes any student who is interested in clinical experience.
"It's exciting to have art or government majors who have some other reason to volunteer, whether that's giving back to the UT community or just trying something on for size," says UHS Director of Nursing Services Kathy Mosteller.
Senior biochemistry major Luis Seija vividly recalls his first solo clinical encounters at UHS with a good-humored grin.
"The first time I went independent was the scariest moment of my life," Seija says about his first post-training assignment. "Just being in there alone, trying not to mess up, trying to say things with enough conviction so the patient thinks you know what you're doing."
After three years with UHS, Seija is now an assistant to the program coordinator. He begins applying for medical school this summer and says his hands-on experience gives him an edge over other applicants.
UHS currently has 52 volunteers who work alongside 40 nursing staff. According to the 201213 UHS impact statement, the facility served 23,633 patients and made 59,644 appointments across the various clinics. Most volunteers work in the General Medicine, Sports Medicine or Women's Health clinics. After one year they may choose to move to Urgent Care or the fully accredited laboratory, where their duties may be more demanding.
Junior nursing student Stefanie Derrett volunteers in the Women's Health clinic, where she says patient interaction can often feel more personal. The challenge of how to balance her role as a student and a caregiver became an important aspect of her volunteer experience.
"It's a different kind of relationship working with a patient versus your best friend," Derrett says. "[Volunteering] helped me to form a more professional relationship and made me more self aware."
The program's high volunteer retention rate demonstrates the positive student experience. For the upcoming summer and fall semesters, there were only 12 spaces for new volunteers and more than 200 qualified applicants.
Forty Acres Pharmacy
The Forty Acres Pharmacy is a convenient place for Longhorns to buy their medications, but it's also a classroom for more than 125 pharmacy students every year.
Advanced College of Pharmacy graduate students use UT's on-campus pharmacy as an extension of the traditional lab setting. They get practical experience working alongside professionals filling and reviewing prescriptions and counseling patients about their medications and how to take them. Each semester, graduate students work in six-week rotations for about four hours a week.
Second-year pharmacy graduate student Angelina Castillo says she believes the emphasis Forty Acres Pharmacy places on patient interaction is beneficial to both the pharmacist and the customer.
"It almost becomes like a partnership with the person you're helping to find an answer to their question," Castillo says. "It's not just you offering a service; it's partnering and helping each other understand."
As experts on all things drug-related, pharmacists in the Forty Acres Pharmacy are given a wide range of responsibilities. On top of their normal duties, students must be prepared to consult about over-the-counter medications, answer the poison control hotline and even aid police with drug identification.
"We have to be able to maneuver through a lot of information really quickly and then be able to translate that into a 'Yes' or 'No' answer," Castillo says. "But it's never a bad thing to say 'I don't know' as long as you find out," she adds.
Stefan Allen, a pharmacy student in his second year, believes there is a need for pharmacists to be "advocates for their profession" in order for people to feel more confident relying on a pharmacist's knowledge.
"The public at large doesn't really understand what we're capable of, what we're trained to do," Allen says.
UT's graduate pharmacy curriculum encompasses four years of rigorous classroom and lab training. Students gain "real-world" experience through internships, placement in retail pharmacies, experience in the Forty Acres Pharmacy and other fieldwork.
Says Castillo, "Actually being out working is one of the most gratifying things when you're able to successfully do what you're being taught in class."
Student Athletic Trainers
Longhorn athletes are some of the most high-profile students on campus, receiving constant media attention, pressure to perform and triumphal praise when victory is secured. But just off to the sidelines is another group of students who play a valuable role in bringing home the wins.
Students in the university's undergraduate athletic training degree program in the College of Education help provide support to athletic training and sports medicine staff, providing care to UT's hundreds of student-athletes. They have to be jacks-of-all-trades, working on everything from setting up fields and courts for practices and games to providing first-aid treatment to assisting in rehabilitation for injured athletes. All patient interaction is done under the supervision of mentors who are certified and licensed athletic trainers.
The students' goal: put classroom and laboratory knowledge to use and get real-world experience to prepare for careers as athletic trainers, physical therapists, physicians assistants, chiropractors and physicians.
And although they have widely different goals for their futures, they all seem to have two things in common: a love of sports and a dedication to the athletes.
"It just gives you chills watching an athlete get back into their prime and knowing you were a part of that process," says senior Sergio Valverde between wrapping football players' ankles before practice. "It's very rewarding."
Stephen Galvan, who will be the senior trainer of the football team in the fall, agrees. "You get to help athletes get back into what they love to do."
Another perk: hands-on medical experience early in their careers.
Renae Greening, a second-year student athletic trainer who has her sights set on medical school, says athletic training gives her an edge. "I will be going up against a lot of [other] majors who haven't had any patient interaction, whereas I have," she says.
This story is part of our yearlong series "In Pursuit of Health," covering medical news and research happening across the university.