Thursday, May 28, 2009

HMS Acronyms Explained

The title is a twist on my favorite philosopher's book title "Consciousness Explained" by Daniel Dennett from Tufts University. Although Harvard Medical School acronyms are not nearly as complicated as consciousness, more often than not I was googling to find what they meant!

HMS = Harvard Medical School
NP = New Pathways
HST = Health Science and Technology
FUNC = First Year Urban Neighborhood Campaign
FEAT = First Year Adventure Trip

After almost two years of working, a year of monstrous applications, and four thousand dollars shaved from my savings account I am less than three months away from starting Harvard Medical School! The official registration begins August 17, but I should get my HMS email address some time in June... I frequently imagined what it would be like, being a medical student at Harvard, and now I'm about to find out first hand! I read the official website to keep myself in the loop about what's happening at the medical school: http://hms.harvard.edu/hms/home.asp, and then school sends us updates on first-year class schedule and other activities.

There are two pre-matriculation activities that are designed to help the new students meet their older peers and introduce us, incoming first-years, to some of their (presumably more amicable) faculty: FUNC and FEAT. FEAT is a backpacking trip into the wilderness of New Hampshirean mountains and I'm sure this would be amazing, but I'm not a fan of August mosquitoes and sleeping that close to Earth, so I'm not doing it. FUNC, on the other hand, is a community service program organized by (maybe?) current first-year student at HMS. This picture is taken from FUNC brochure that the school sent me in May - it features a student happily chopping carrots for Community Servings program around Boston. That's all I really know so far about it, but I signed up anyway -- they promised more information later on. Whoever organized both programs clearly has a soft spot for witty acronyms!

An entering class at Harvard Medical School is roughly 140 students. Of those, about 110 enter as New Pathways student (and I am lucky to be one of them!), and about 30 enter as HST students, which stands for Health, Science and Technology "track". Those students have remarkable opportunities to do research at both Harvard and MIT, the program is designed with the idea to give Harvard medical students access to the leading researchers in health technologies and engineering. I remember when I first applied to HMS I tried my best to understand the differences between New Pathways and HST, but little was available. On www.studentdoctor.net I found a spectrum of opinions ranging from "there is no difference" to "they never even see each other!" Interestingly, some students who were accepted to HST in my entering class expressed fear (!) and anxiety about it on studentdoctor blogs.

The truth is that HST is quite different from New Pathways (I finally understood the differences, but only after I was accepted and attended the revisit weekend!). New Pathways features a unique curriculum which makes use of problem-based learning, the so-called "PBL approach". HST students spend most of their time in lectures. During the revisit they allowed us to sit in on one of the tutorials - small group learning activity that substitutes for most of the lecture time in New Pathways curriculum. The one I attended started at 9am, and it was a very small group of students (5-6) discussing a case of a patient with flu-like symptoms. A new case is offered for students' consideration each week, and on Friday (which is when I happened to attend it!) is the big finale - students finally learn the true diagnosis of the patient. Each student in the group researched one of the possible diagnoses and then presented it to the group in a very casual way - among the six students it seemed that everything was covered from immunodeficiency due to alcoholism to exotic Korean viruses. The group was nominally headed by the instructor, who was a young, smiling, friendly doc (a specialist in infectious diseases), but his role was apparently to make sure the students weren't saying something wrong as opposed to leading the discussion. I was very impressed.

Unfortunately I did not get the opportunity to attend HST activities. HST students were rounded up and bused to MIT to participate in some undoubtedly cool stuff. We had very different schedules for the revisit weekend, but got back together for breakfast and dinner (Harvard treated us to some really good food, actually, nothing like the Quaker Bars they "featured" on the interview day!)

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