August 23, 2017

Eric Walford, MD: Preparing the next generation

Longitudinal clinical training gives med students quality time with patients

As we get closer to wrapping up the main initiatives of our five-year curriculum transformation process in 2018, students and faculty continue to work together to shape innovative elements of our M.D. program. One of these major changes is the Branches, the final phase of the curriculum that students enter in the third year of med school. Upon entry, students choose one of four Branch options.

Eric Walford, M.D., directs the Longitudinal Clinic experience in the Patients and Populations Branch. Here, Dr. Walford answers seven questions about what it is like to pioneer a new program inspired by med students and the patients they will serve.

What do you see is your overall mission when it comes to your role in the Branches?

As the Longitudinal Clinic Director, I want students to experience firsthand the joys of being an outpatient doctor. While in the Branches, students have the opportunity to do a Longitudinal Clinic, which means they spend a half day per week with the same clinic and preceptor for an entire year. This is a unique experience that allows students to work with wonderful mentors and get to know patients during multiple visits.

What appealed to you in taking on this position?

While working with longitudinal students in my own clinic, I really enjoyed getting to know them on a personal level over the course of the year. The students, in general, have really enjoyed the Longitudinal Clinic experience, and I am excited to improve an already-great program.

What do you think would appeal to a med student who is considering your Branch?

The Longitudinal Clinics are a feature unique to the Patients and Populations branch. One of the goals of both the P&P branch and Longitudinal Clinic is to establish meaningful long-term relationships with patients. Anyone who is interested in developing these types of close relationships, whether it be in primary care or specialty care, would fit well in the P&P branch.

What has been your favorite part about piloting your Branch so far?

I have really enjoyed developing some new features for the Longitudinal Clinics. In particular, I have developed a “patient panel” for each student that is comprised of patients whom the student will have multiple interactions with, including in clinic, on the phone and in the hospital.

Since the Branches program is still in its infancy, I have been afforded a lot of flexibility in development of curriculum. This has allowed me to be very responsive to student input in developing experiences that meets the unique needs of each student.

What are you looking forward to next with your Branch’s development?

The Longitudinal Clinic program is evolving every year. I look forward to piloting a new version of the Longitudinal Clinic that will be able to count as a student’s sub-internship. I also am excited about doing Longitudinal Clinics in some new specialties, including pediatric infectious disease and anesthesia.

What do you like about working with med students?

Students are like undifferentiated cells (my biology professor from undergrad would appreciate this reference) in that that they are at a stage in their development where they can become literally anything. I enjoy helping mold students during the formative years of medical school and allowing them to uncover their own skills and aspirations.

How would you describe the benefits of the Branches to someone who is considering the University of Michigan Medical School for their medical education?

One of the most unique features of the Branches is how customizable the experience is. If you have a very specific passion, the Branches can help you reach different goals within this area of interest. If you aren’t sure what direction you want to go, the Branch advisors can develop an experience that will help you refine your career path. It is truly a student-centered curriculum.