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College of Medicine Alumni Magazine: Fall 2023 Q&A: Jennifer Hamilton, MD, PhD

Interview by Christina Hernandez Sherwood

Jennifer Hamilton, MD, PhD

The College of Medicine’s MD program made its long-awaited move to the new Health Sciences Building this summer, nearly a year after the state-of-the-art University City tower opened. Much of the College of Medicine left its longtime home on the Queen Lane Campus in East Falls to join the College of Nursing and Health Professions and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies in University City.

Jennifer Hamilton, MD, PhD, a professor in the Department of Family, Community & Preventive Medicine, leads simulation education for the College of Medicine and spent her summer helping facilitate the 6-mile move. “Moving happened in stages,” Hamilton says. “Rather than move over in the middle of a medical school year, we waited until the summer.”

In a July interview, edited for length and clarity, Hamilton explains what it takes to move a medical school and highlights some of the perks of the College of Medicine’s new home.

What's it like to move a medical school?

Packing is always a nightmare. I don’t care whether you’re moving a studio apartment or a medical school. We have simulation labs, rooms full of equipment made to look like an outpatient doctor’s office or a hospital clinic. These simulations help students make the transition from the textbook years of medical school to working with real patients. For the students at the end of their second year, we had to do all of that in the old space because we couldn’t move in the middle of class. Then, in June and July, we had to get everything packed up, moved, installed and tested. Did the equipment handle the move correctly? Let’s make sure nothing broke during the transition. Is it connecting to the new networks? We’ve got to have it running when the new class comes in.

How is the new Health Sciences Building different from the College of Medicine’s previous home in East Falls?

Students will notice the anatomy lab right away. It is bigger and better ventilated. Usually there’s a table for the instructor to show you the fine details of what’s going on. Now that can be projected to all the students in the room without everybody trying to squeeze in to look at the same time.

There are multiple simulation spaces in the building. I’m most involved with the simulated hospital rooms and emergency room bays. There are more of them. They are bigger and better laid out. With the medical school expanding, we can have more students come through in the same amount of time. Say you’re working in the emergency room, and you got called over because someone wasn’t feeling right. I’m in the control room saying, “Now this horrible thing is going to happen. What do you do next?”

We’ve got more physical space for the individual skills. We’ve got models for students to learn to do a pelvic exam, a breast exam, a prostate exam. With more physical space to lay out the models, we don’t have to keep taking the displays down at night.

How does the move enable the College of Medicine to take advantage of new technology?

The new anatomy lab has a flat-screen display, about 6 feet by 3 feet. We didn’t have room for this in the old building. It shows the inside of a body. It’s made with incredibly detailed photographs of a real human body. You can pick up the virtual scalpel and go through this virtual human layer by layer. The nice thing about this, that you don’t have with an actual dissection, is you can go backwards. Surgery doesn’t have an undo button. A computer does, enabling you to go back and say, “What if we look at this layer instead?” Or maybe you want to see what the same layer would look like on a CAT scan. Boom, you’ve got it.

What's the benefit of having the health sciences all in one place?

If we want to involve nurses and doctors in an event, it is so much easier to arrange when the nursing students don’t have to come to East Falls. There’s value to being physically in the same place at the same time. We can leverage that in a way we couldn’t before.

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