In August, we welcomed our newest cohort of 105 B.A./M.D. students to the School of Medicine. We know that our success starts with the recruitment of the best, brightest and most diverse group of students. At their orientation, I identified that as a B.A./M.D. graduate of this medical school, there was no doubt in my mind that my family, my docents, starting with my year 1 docent, and the talented faculty I had the chance to engage with, shaped the physician I became. From medical school, through residency in pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s to fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Texas Southwestern, countless mentors, many who were the icons in pediatrics of that era, were my supporters along the way as I became a clinician, educator and researcher through the last three decades and eventually dean in 2018.
At the orientation ceremony for our Year 1 class, Dr. Bridgette Jones, assistant dean of student affairs, told the students that we are here to cheer them on, provide support and guidance through difficult times and to make sure they have fun and are celebrated along the way. Dr. Allan Davis, assistant dean of admissions, provided the diversity snapshot of the students of the Class of 2028, noting that while most of our students came from within our state and the Kansas City region, we also saw students come from as far away as Massachusetts to California, from a town of 2,000 to a metro area of 9.5 million. Approximately a quarter of the class of 2028 are from a racial group underrepresented in higher education or medicine, grew up in a rural area, identify as LGBTQIA, or are first-generation students. Dr. Davis emphasized that our newest students, especially, in the thick of a global pandemic and a transition to a new normal, showed resiliency, creativity and fortitude as they found inventive ways to gain experience in and insight into the field of medicine.
One of the highlights of our Year 1 orientation is the presentation of the Garcia Memorial Award, presented this year to Samuel Kim, who was selected by his student peers. He was introduced as a passionate, top student who is motivated, knowledgeable, compassionate and selfless. Sam identified the thrill of meeting classmates, the fear of starting the accelerated curriculum and the strange feeling of homesickness mixed with the novel thought of independence. He emphasized that our students are chosen and have the capacity to use their human-to-human connections “to protect the defenseless and heal the brokenhearted,” providing hope to patients who may be at the most hopeless moments in their lives.
The approach to medical education is changing across the country and many schools are embarking on curricular paths that mirror what UMKC SOM has utilized for more than 50 years. Whether our students enter as B.A./M.D. students or enter as M.D.-only students, they join a docent group that allows a team-based focus that promotes peer to peer student mentorship and supports an approach to optimize clinical care for our patients. As students graduate and move on to residency programs, they are recognized as being among the best of the best clinicians. We are also expanding our opportunities for students who have been nationally recognized for their engagement in local, regional and national medical research programs, diversity and advocacy initiatives, and as they embark on advanced degrees. Students have presented in national forums, becoming thought leaders and the physician scientists of the future who are changing the outcomes for patients from the urban core to residents of rural Missouri. The national recognition for our students ranges from Sophie Bernstein, class of 2024 who was selected for the 2022 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee, to our nine students who most recently completed the National Institute of Health yearlong Medical Research Scholars Program and the NIDDK summer fellowship programs to those completing Master’s degrees like Divya Jain who will finish her two year program at the Kennedy School of Public Policy in 2023.
Our innovative medical education program continues to graduate the best, brightest, most caring and well-rounded physicians. We are proud of our talented and accomplished faculty who are passionate about serving the underserved and advancing medical research that changes outcomes for all patients. Advancing the health of people and populations depends on our ability to engage with our clinical partners in top quality clinical care, maintain our innovative curriculum, engage in scientific discovery, collaborate with our communities, promote work to achieve health equity, and to elevate our standards of professionalism and ethics. It is also critical that we enhance the medical school environment moving forward as this too positively impacts our students’ learning, achievement and wellbeing.
On the horizon, we will be breaking ground for a new UMKC School of Medicine building on the rural campus in St. Joseph and continue fundraising for a new Health Innovation building on the Kansas City campus that will allow us to expand our student learning space and simulation capabilities. We are also renovating and expanding our student classroom space in our current building and envisioning an expanded renovation of the outdoor plaza that can become an additional space for our student to gather and study together.
The coming months are going to be exciting and I am eager to see where we go in our next 50 years!
Mary Anne Jackson, M.D. ’78
Dean, School of Medicine