Agents for change: Student capstone showcase goes virtual

May 21, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Michigan Medicine News

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic changed everything about the U-M Medical School curriculum practically overnight. Not only were students’ clinical rotations paused and in-person classes moved online, but educational events were canceled, as well.

Among the biggest was a showcase planned for graduating students to show off their Capstone For Impact (CFI) projects.

Planned for early April, the showcase was to be an opportunity for graduating students to celebrate the culmination of their hard work and energize second- and third-year classmates just beginning to contemplate their own CFI projects. While the past two years have seen similar events, this year’s was to be by far the biggest, with the largest crop of finished CFI projects to date, thanks to new capstone requirements for most graduating students.

“We envisioned the 2020 showcase being the first truly big one,” said Rajesh S. Mangrulkar, M.D., associate dean for medical student education. “It was to be a public rollout in some ways of this new important aspect of the new curriculum we’ve developed, which purposefully creates time and space for students in their final year to explore their passions, develop projects and realize their potential impact in the field.”

COVID-19 forced a change in those plans as administrators scrambled to move the showcase online. A new Capstone for Impact Showcase 2020 website features information about 120 CFI projects representing nearly 150 graduating UMMS students.

Project topics run the gamut from researching the impact of racial diversity in medical residency programs, to incorporating adolescent health education into the curriculum, to a timely proposal for a rapidly improvised ventilator.

New this year is the Krishnaswami Award for Excellence in Public Health, Health Equity, and Disease Prevention, given to students Casimir Klim and Jessica Winkels for their project to make the student-led Wolverine Street Medicine initiative sustainable at UMMS in the long-term. Klim and Winkels are one of six teams invited to record in-depth presentations hosted on the site.

“My hope is that students coming into the final phase of the curriculum will be able to see what their peers did and have a better sense for how they can approach their own projects,” said Samiah Haque, UMMS curriculum branches coordinator, who set up the site. “Some students find it intimidating to come up with a project, so seeing what others have done can demystify the process so future cohorts understand that anyone can make an impact.”

The site includes four faculty talks to both inspire students headed into the capstone phase of the curriculum and offer guidance for both capstone and career success.

Professor of Surgery Michael J. Englesbe, M.D., director of the Capstone for Impact curriculum as well as the third- and fourth-year of medical school curriculum, introduces the CFI concept and the virtual event. Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Internal Medicine, and Public Health Catherine Kim, M.D., M.P.H., director of the UMMS Paths of Excellence, offers advice on altering future projects for success in the midst of COVID-19 limitations and uncertainty.

Mangrulkar, meanwhile, outlines the broad rationale for UMMS curriculum changes to make room for CFI projects, while Associate Dean of Research and Professor of Anesthesiology Sachin Kheterpal, M.D., delivers a keynote via videoconference reflecting on his own journey in medicine and offering career advice.

“Look for a theme in your work to develop into your career,” said Kheterpal. “Think about what you love doing and don’t want to give up. Don’t delegate what you are uniquely good at.”

A living section of the site called Collaboration Opportunities links current students to a database of project information behind the U-M firewall with contact information for each respective project lead.

“One of the really positive aspects of moving this online is creating this permanent platform for potential collaboration opportunities,” Haque said. “I think it’s something we’ll keep moving forward even after we return to an in-person event because it provides opportunities for others to pick up where their predecessors left off and build on their work.”

Taken together, the projects featured on the website create a vibrant and hopeful picture of the future of medicine, which is increasingly attracting diverse learners with unique perspectives, Mangrulkar said.

“It’s an incredibly diverse group of projects that reflects the range of interests across our students,” he said. “As a public institution, we draw students from a range of backgrounds and with a variety of educational and career experiences prior to medical school. The one thing that unites our students is simply their desire to help. Through these projects, we’re encouraging our students to extend that desire beyond the patient in front of them and apply it at a systems level to become change agents.”

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