Q&A: Karen Restifo, MD, JD
Interview by Nancy West
Karen Restifo, MD, JD, was appointed to the newly created position of regional vice dean of the College of Medicine’s Tower Health campus in West Reading, Pennsylvania. She comes to Drexel with a wealth of experience in medical school leadership. She also brings to the table a deep understanding of student affairs, the accreditation process and medical ethics.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AT the West Reading campus? What are your goals and expectations?
My goals are to create a learning environment where students feel included and safe, and to graduate medical students who are exceptionally well-trained, are great patient advocates, and give back to their community. Our admissions goal is to enroll 40 first-year students in our inaugural class, which will begin in August 2021. I really like the challenge of building new things and thinking outside the box, and that’s the essence of my role here, as we expand to include both first- and second-year students, as well as continuing to teach the third- and fourth-year students who are already here.
I’m responsible for delivering the curriculum, creating a safe and supportive environment for students, and helping to manage the accreditation process. My job involves recruiting and hiring faculty, helping to find clinicians to teach students to do physical exams, facilitating the College’s connections within Tower, supporting the faculty’s efforts to set up community health programs, and making sure students have the wellness resources they need.
I’m very excited and honored to be here. We’re building a great team. We’re very proud of the curriculum and our new academic building, which is a thoughtfully constructed, bright place for people to learn, teach and work.
I really like the challenge of building new things and thinking outside the box, and that’s the essence of my role. I’m very excited and honored to be here. We’re building a great team.
WHAT DOES THE WEST READING campus offer medical students?
Reading Hospital, which is located a mile from the new academic building, is a huge 714-bed regional medical center — the largest, by bed count, between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Currently, the hospital offers 20 residency and fellowship programs and plans to add more. It also has the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the county, and the Emergency Department is the busiest single-site ED in Pennsylvania, which is great for students because they are exposed to more diversity. I think we will attract students who are interested in a smaller class in a community-based setting.
In our first year, our entire campus will be one learning community of 40 students. They will attend classes in a brand new, state-ofthe-art building with a simulation center and clinical skills center.
The physicians at Tower Health are very interested and excited to be involved with teaching our medical students. In addition, a large number of Drexel College of Medicine alumni live within a 20-mile radius of our West Reading campus. We are hopeful that they will be interested in opportunities to work with our medical students and mentor them. I’m happy to talk to any alumni who are interested!
WHAT ASPECTS OF MEDICAL education are especially important to future doctors now?
With the COVID-19 pandemic, our job is to deliver medical education designed to help our future doctors know how to learn, what to read, what information sources are credible, and how to change their practice as necessary in an everchanging world. They also must learn how to advocate for their patients. Importantly, we need to educate them about diversity, so they can take care of patients from many different backgrounds. For example, they must know how to treat diabetes in all sorts of patient situations, such as those who can’t afford their medication, lack transportation to get to doctor visits or can’t afford to buy healthy food.
We also have to expose medical students to research so they understand it even if they don’t perform much research themselves. And they need to learn about interdisciplinary practice, medical ethics, and the importance of being empathetic and compassionate.
Finally, we need to teach medical students how to take care of themselves. Mental health problems are very prevalent in medical students, trainees and physicians. It is critical that we teach them to recognize when they’re stressed, when they should take a five-minute break, and when to ask for help. It’s like the airplane safety rule — you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can help others. We are very focused on providing students with support to deal with the big stressors they may face as they pursue medical education.
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