At first glance, it appears to be a standard medical examination room where a middle-aged woman is explaining her abdominal pain and responding to the earnest questions of the doctor in training. In fact, it’s a classroom for training medical students at the University of Texas Medical Branch, and the entire examination is being taped for critique and feedback.

The woman, Regina Lewis, works as a “patient” — complete with a back story — so students can have an authentic experience and learn how to approach, question and examine people. Most first-year medical students are in their early 20s and may have to ask very pointed and personal questions of patients their parents’ age, explained Dr. Karen Szauter, professor of gastroenterology and senior medical educator leading the day’s training.

On this day, Brett Harrington was doing the questioning about diet and past medical history, when in actuality, he is a development officer for UTMB.

He was joined by four other “civilians,” including Joseph Pillar, principal at Galveston’s Ball High School, for a daylong program designed to introduce the lay person to the world of medical education, its challenges, traditions and expectations.

Pillar signed on for the day to learn more about medical school and what’s available for his students, some of whom already participate in advanced research on campus. For Harrington, it will bring a deeper understanding to his work.

The program, called Project Medical Education, is essentially medical school in a day.

“Students” begin their day with a confidentiality agreement and by learning to use a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope. Following an overview of the UTMB School of Medicine, they are issued their own white coat and then it’s off to class.

They go on simulated patient rounds and participate in their equivalent of Match Day, when medical students learn where they will spend their residencies, concluding with graduation.

The day is long but provides members of the community a window into the years of medical school.

By Maureen Bayless Balleza
UTMB Office of Marketing and Communications