March 22, 2017

Jennifer Jehnsen: Making it your own

New curriculum provides more opportunities for students to customize to their interests

Jennifer, on left, with classmates at the 2013 White Coat Ceremony

The University of Michigan Medical School is in the middle of a curriculum transformation that was launched in 2013 when the AMA awarded our program a $1.1 million grant to change medical education. Since then, more than 250 members of our community have come together to better align our educational goals with the health care needs of society. Our med students are not only actively involved as partners on various curriculum committees, but also volunteer to participate in pilot courses and programs.

M4 Jenn is one of these volunteers. She is currently participating in the Patients and Populations pilot, one of four proposed track options in the new Branches curriculum that gives students the opportunity to create a unique primary care experience through customizable electives, longitudinal patient care, and patient-based scientific inquiry (PBSI).

For her entire M4 year, Jenn has worked at the Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti every Tuesday morning providing health care and mental health services for youth. Here she answers 10 questions about learning longitudinally and figuring out her future.

How did you get involved in test driving this pilot?

I first heard about the pilot at one of our M3 lectures as an opportunity to gain more skills in our specific field of interest, and I was immediately interested. I was looking for an experience that would allow me to have continuity with patients. As a medical student on the wards, that can be difficult because we are only on each rotation for a few weeks at a time. Through the longitudinal clinic, I knew that I would get to experience continuity with patients, which is one of the most important aspects of family medicine and primary care.

What interested you in taking a pilot course in M4 year?

I wanted an experience in my fourth year that would allow me to develop skills in my specific field to prepare for residency. In addition, I've always had an interest in medical education, and I wanted to be a part of the pilot to hopefully provide feedback on the program and help improve it for future classes.

What have you been doing in the Patients and Populations pilot so far?

With support and guidance from my mentor, Dr. Maggie Riley, I have gained skills in newborn care, contraceptive care and prenatal care. As the year has progressed, I have also gained more confidence to prepare patient assessments and plan on my own, which has helped me develop the knowledge and skills necessary to be prepared for residency.

What have you found valuable in this experience?

The most valuable part of this experience has been the mentorship and continuity with patients. I worked with Dr. Riley every week at clinic, and this was an incredible opportunity to continuously get feedback on my performance and build on my skills. It was amazing to have a mentor in my field because she taught me specific skills that will be useful in my future training and career, and I was able to ask her questions about residency applications and future career goals.

I also loved seeing my patients on a regular basis, especially my pregnant patients. I was able to follow many women throughout their pregnancies and then provide their postpartum care, as well as care for their newborns. I was able to provide feedback to the pilot program to hopefully improve some things, such as logistical issues I encountered adding in a half day of clinic during other rotations. I also suggested organizing more activities that bring together students in the same Branch to share experiences.

Why do you think it is important to include students as part of the curriculum development process?

Many programs look great on paper, but the kinks in the curriculum are not revealed until students actually go through and experience the program. One of the things that I love about our medical school is that the administration is very responsive to student concerns. Student feedback is highly valued, and because of that I have no doubt that the curriculum will continue to grow and change in a way that will enhance the medical school experience.

What would you say future med students can look forward to most with the curriculum?

I think the flexibility of the curriculum allows students to have more time to explore many different specialties before deciding. There are also more opportunities for creative electives related to each student's interests.

You have been involved in so many activities in med school. How do you find time for it all?

Life in medical school can be very busy, but being involved in extracurricular activities definitely helped me to remember why I came to medical school and kept things in perspective. As a non-traditional student, the transition to being a student again and learning how to study again was definitely difficult. However, being involved with programs like the Student-Run Free Clinic and Doctors of Tomorrow definitely helped me further explore my interests in underserved care and adolescent medicine even during my pre-clinical years.

Being involved in extracurricular activities helped me feel integrated into the medical school community very quickly, which allowed me to become familiar with the many resources and opportunities available at our school.

Why did you choose family medicine as your specialty?

My longitudinal clinic experience through the Branches pilot was what influenced me to pursue family medicine. I loved having continuity with my patients, and caring for moms and babies in the same appointment!

I was a high school teacher in Arkansas before coming to medical school, so I have always been interested in adolescent medicine because I saw my students struggle with many health issues. There is a physician shortage in most areas of the U.S. outside of large cities. With advancements in telemedicine and other technologies, I think it is an exciting time to be involved with rural medicine and caring for patients in areas where there are physician shortages.

Specifically in rural areas, family medicine doctors play a huge role in providing care for all age groups and treating a wide range of disease processes. I am excited for the opportunity to get full-spectrum training to care for patients in rural areas both domestically and abroad.

Have you gained any specific insights about your career choice as a med student?

As I prepare for a career in family medicine, one of the things I have learned is that gaining patients' trust early on is the most important aspect of primary care. If patients don't trust you, they may leave out information in their histories or be afraid to bring up certain issues. Building trust and good communication with all of the staff at the clinic/facility is another very important aspect. Providing excellent patient care is always a team effort. 

What would you say to a prospective student who is considering the University of Michigan Medical School for their medical education?

There are opportunities here to explore anything that you are interested in. You can create student groups, electives, or research projects. All of the faculty are very open to mentoring students and getting students involved with research. If there is a field or research question you are interested in, there is most likely someone here who is also interested in that or can direct you to the right person.

There is support from all departments and the administration is very supportive of new student ideas. If we don't offer something that you are interested in, they will be open to helping you create an experience that will help enhance your experience here.

With our innovative curriculum and incredible classmates, residents and faculty, there is nowhere else like Michigan!

Go Blue!