Land of Opportunity: Drexel University’s Health Sciences Building
A big change is happening at Drexel’s campus in University City.
By Kate McCorkle
This fall, students in the health professions will begin to move into a space where they will ultimately learn together under one roof: the new 12-story, 456,000-square-foot Health Sciences Building. The building represents not only the culmination of years of planning, but also a three-fold opportunity. The physical space facilitates opportunities for interaction and friendship among the medical, nursing and graduate students that in turn create opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and partnership. There is also tremendous untapped opportunity thanks to the neighborhood itself.
First, the nuts and bolts: Construction began at 60 North 36th Street in 2020 by Wexford Science and Technology LLC. The building is part of Wexford and Drexel’s 14-acre, jointly developed uCity Square complex, which already has a presence in the area. The building was constructed using around 11,000 cubic yards of concrete, 3,941 tons of structural steel and the labor of more than 1,450 tradespeople.
The Health Sciences Building will house academics and administration for the College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP), the College of Medicine’s MD program and portions of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies, all of which were formerly located in Center City or the Queen Lane Campus in East Falls. CNHP students started classes at the new building in September 2022, with their MD and graduate student colleagues joining the following year.
“This is a phenomenal opportunity for our students and faculty,” notes Charles B. Cairns, MD, the Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Dean of the College of Medicine and senior vice president of medical affairs at Drexel University. “Seeing the building take shape over the last two years has instilled a sense of pride and connectedness with our peers at other Drexel colleges in University City — that’s particularly welcome in a time when we have all felt separated in some ways from each other by the pandemic.”
Built for Collaboration
The physical layout of the Health Sciences Building is designed to cultivate interaction. In addition to large and small instructional spaces, there are also centrally located community/breakout spaces, multiple pantries, and wellness, faith and lactation rooms located on multiple floors.
For CNHP students, there’s space for creative arts therapy (to support dance, music and art) and physical therapy (to support a Human Performance & Aging Research Center and a Primary Gait Lab & Running Center). The building also includes state-of-the-art simulation spaces, anatomy teaching spaces and wet labs. One particularly interesting feature is a 300-person active learning space capable of being subdivided into two 150-person spaces by way of a Skyfold wall that stacks into the ceiling. In addition to active learning and seminar rooms, there are standardized patient suites, health assessment and clinical skills space, and room for student activities.
Bringing Drexel’s health-related programs together under one roof will enhance opportunities for interdisciplinary education. Donna M. Russo, PhD, HU ’89, interim vice dean for educational affairs, William Maul Measey Chair in Medical Education, and professor of microbiology and immunology, says, “We hope to find opportunities where our students can learn together in an interprofessional environment. They will not be in the same courses as other health profession students, but they can still have sessions together geared to promote their growth and development as members of a health care team. That’s really what’s important about an interprofessional relationship in the future.”
Alfred Sadler, MD, HU ’66, has long stressed that strong teams benefit everyone. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, he was at the forefront of credentialing and licensure for a new profession designed to help solve the shortage of doctors — the physician assistant. He and Russo both point out that many departmental teams within a hospital rely on different professionals, such as nurses, EMTs, PAs, physicians and physical therapists. Sadler emphasizes that these groups don’t compete “but enhance one another.”
He recalls an example of this “enhancement” from the early days of the physician assistant profession. In 1971, one his PA students at Yale was doing his emergency room rotation when a woman arrived who’d been in a major car accident. The student was told to examine the patient, who had a compound fracture of her leg. His thorough exam revealed that she also had a fractured skull. The woman was rushed to neurosurgery, her broken leg having become a secondary concern. The utility of PAs, even as students, was apparent.
Russo affirms that a collaborative learning approach has long been part of the College of Medicine’s education. Both case-based and team-based learning bring students together in groups to learn and support one another. In the new Health Sciences Building, “There will be formal structured classroom interactions that promote formation of high-quality health care teams,” she says. And also, “With students in the same building, you’ll have informal collaboration. They’re going to be utilizing some of the same study spaces, amenities, relaxation spaces. Hopefully there will be friendships forming. If those friendships develop while training and learning, it may promote more respect and understanding for the different professions.”
Cairns adds, “Bringing this diverse group of learners and educators under one roof is a sign of our commitment to teaching interprofessionalism as a core part of our students’ educations. Collegiality and collaboration are core to who we are as a college, and this is a step toward furthering those qualities in our students, trainees, faculty and professional staff.”
Opportunities for Engagement
The sense of opportunity, however, is not confined to the physical building. By moving to University City, more students in medical professions will have access to a vibrant neighborhood and the amenities offered by the University. There are dining options, shopping and entertainment, as well as Drexel wellness centers, cultural offerings and athletic events.
There is also a tremendous wealth of opportunity for students to really engage with the neighborhood. As Russo states, “Civic engagement is the cornerstone of our culture.” Regardless of whether Drexel students were based at Queen Lane or Center City, community engagement is part of the educational experience. This tradition will continue at University City, yet with perhaps even more possibility since a STEM-focused school is adjacent to campus.
“The potential collaborations with the school are pretty key,” Russo says. Drexel students are already involved in tutoring, mentoring, running heath-type classes and acting as role models for students interested in STEM careers. But with a school presence literally on campus, the possibilities and opportunities are limitless. “I think we don’t even know what can evolve out of that [proximity],” Russo shares. “I know our students will jump on that.”
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