UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Students and faculty from the College of Information Sciences and Technology and the University Park Curriculum of Penn State College of Medicine joined together to develop an introductory exercise for incoming medical students.
The exercise, titled EpiCentre, is a multi-part tabletop activity designed to introduce new medical students to the local community and to provide a platform for their early clinical reasoning development. Twelve medical students participated in the exercise held Aug. 1-3.
The three-day exercise consisted of four tasks, each with a storyline based on a hypothetical public health issue occurring in Centre County, Pennsylvania. The medical students worked in small teams to analyze each task, create a deliverable, and resolve the hypothetical problem.
“Critical reasoning is critical reasoning, whether you are an engineer, a physician or a lawyer. This exercise emphasizes obtaining information beyond any baseline knowledge; working with other professionals and making the best decision based on the information you’ve got,” said Dr. Mark Stephens, a physician with Penn State Health Medical Group who helped develop the curriculum for the University Park campus.
Stephens, who also served as EpiCentre’s medical expert, added, “There are different strategies to promote a student’s ability to think, act and feel like a physician. In this particular case it’s all about taking in information, thinking about that information, and making decisions. This is analogous to the process of clinical decision-making in patient care.”
EpiCentre evolved from an exercise developed by College of IST professor of practice Col. Jake Graham and students in the Red Cell Analytics Lab two years ago, modeled on the Analytic Decision Game (ADG) framework. The ADG is an exercise-based tool, developed at Penn State, as training to bridge theory to practice in the college classroom and to promote and teach the application of analytic techniques to solve problems of security and risk, including natural and manmade crises. This previous exercise was utilized in the capstone course for the college’s security and risk analysis major and conducted for prior classes of medical students.
Morgan Decker, a second-year medical student, participated in that exercise two years ago when she was employed by the College of Medicine to help build the curriculum at University Park.
“This was just one project out of many that we did that year,” Decker said. “We really started with [Graham’s] project and worked through it to see if it was something we wanted to do with the medical students who were incoming.”
This year, Decker facilitated the EpiCentre design build along with Graham, Stephens, and College of IST students Brennan Cornwall, Stanton Martin, Calvin Mende, Luke Rarig and Zach Ripka. In this iteration, the exercise has been tailored to meet specific learning and engagement objectives, including adaptive reasoning and problem-solving, with a specific focus on the health infrastructure and people of Centre County.
The College of IST students built the background data for the story, developed support material, and created base maps of Centre County to highlight features such as major population centers, agricultural areas and medical facilities.
“There is such value in helping to create this exercise,” said Mende, a Schreyer Honors Scholar majoring in security and risk analysis. “We’ve gone through simulations similar to this throughout our major, but in doing that, we’ve only seen half of the entire simulation. Going through this development process causes you to think out all the possible ways [the participant] will interpret the final product and whether or not they’ll see the vision you had initially.”
In past years, students and faculty from the College of IST have participated in the exercise, helping to strengthen the interdisciplinary approach to training the next generation of physicians.
“It’s a great example of interdepartmental collaboration here at the University,” said Graham. “Two communities who wouldn’t normally sit down at the table prospectively came together to build this. It’s neat how it comes about.”
“From my perspective, modern medicine is absolutely, unequivocally a team sport and an inter-professional endeavor,” concluded Stephens.