Columbia-Bassett: Not Your Typical Introduction to Medical School

Cooperstown, NY - It’s a good bet that no medical students anywhere have ever launched their careers quite like the first class of Columbia-Bassett students did Aug. 16-20 in Cooperstown. While most medical students begin their careers with a White Coat Ceremony, the 10 students accepted to the Columbia-Bassett program started their journey quite a bit differently. Some mucked stalls in a cow barn, others pounded beams and drilled holes at a construction site, and still others worked the kitchen at a local restaurant.

“That's what sets this program apart. The focus is on fostering connections between physicians and people in the community in which they practice," noted Mark J. Harris, who spent a day with an electrician on a job in Middlefield. Harris comes to the Columbia-Bassett program from Rye Brook, NY and is a graduate of Dartmouth College. "Medicine should not simply be about treating a disease, but rather treating a person who happens to have a disease. Most training programs forget that."

Freda Ready, who grew up in Manhattan and graduated from Cornell University, said, “We come with very diverse experiences and at most medical schools you’re expected to leave that at the door and be a doctor. Here you’re encouraged to connect with your patients as people and to also grow personally, not just professionally.” Freda spent her first day of orientation working in the kitchen at Alex and Ika’s restaurant.

The 10 Columbia-Bassett students did don white coats and take the Hippocratic Oath when they arrived at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons on Aug. 23, but that was preceded by a carefully crafted week of orientation at Bassett that also included:

• Interacting with residents of Otsego Manor, Pathfinder Village, the Thanksgiving Home, Springbrook and the Fox Rehabilitation Center;
• A session with James Carse, professor emeritus, New York University and author of “Finite and Infinite Games”, discussing the forces that influence people, and dominate business and politics;
• Discussion sessions with Professors from Columbia’s School of Business and School of Public Health about health care finance and medical errors;
• Shadowing doctors in the outpatient clinic and in the hospital setting;
• Visits to The Farmer’s Museum, the New York State Historical Association and they tried their hands at making pottery.

Dr. Henry Weil, Columbia’s assistant dean for education at Bassett, and Dr. Walter Franck, Columbia’s senior associate dean at Bassett, say they developed the week of orientation with three goals in mind. First, to provide an opportunity for these aspiring physicians to understand their patients as people by seeing them in the environment in which they live and work. Second, to give them a taste of a curriculum designed to graduate physicians who understand and can lead the health systems of the future. Third, to expose them to options for personal growth and learning.

Dr. Richard Brown, who led the advisory committee to the Columbia-Bassett program, hopes it will foster interpersonal skills, communication, and empathy for the people physicians care for, while grounding the education in natural and cultural experiences that are unique to Cooperstown.

The 10 students accepted to the Columbia-Bassett program were selected out of a total of 758 who applied. They have Medical College Admission Test scores and grade point averages comparable to those of students at the top medical schools in the country and come from Arizona, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, South Dakota and Australia. They will spend their first 18 months at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons before returning to Bassett in January of 2012 for two and a half years of clinical training.

Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Bassett Medical Center announced the creation of the Columbia-Bassett program in May of 2009 in response to a call for the nation’s medical schools to explore ways to better equip physicians to deal with the health care needs of the 21st century. The program intends to turn out skilled clinicians who are passionate about patient care, good communicators, adept at evidence-based medicine, and accountable to society as responsible managers of the health care system. To learn more about the Columbia-Bassett program visit