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FSU's Med School Has a Mission

Florida State University School of Medicine

Florida State University’s School of Medicine has a mission that’s unique among virtually all other medical schools in the country.

School of Medicine Associate Dean Dr. Daniel Van Durme says that imperative is even written into the law passed by the Florida Legislature that created the school more than 17 years ago.

“With a particular emphasis on communities of greatest need: rural, minority, elderly and other communities that are underserved. That’s in the opening paragraph that said our school should be created,” he said.

But that also means the FSU College of Medicine may not be the medical training ground of choice for those students hoping to have major money specialty practices in the big cities. So Van Durme said the school tries to make sure it recruits students who have a high likelihood of settling in the areas the school’s attempting to serve.

“If we take someone who came from a poor, inner city background, they’re likely to go back and work in that poor inner city. If they came from a rural background, they’re likely to go to a rural area. That’s by far the biggest predictor. So we have a particular focus on the rural Panhandle of Florida.”

Van Durme explained that follows up on an aggressive outreach program to interest area middle and high school kids in the medical profession.

“Kids that we touched when they were in 7th grade that came to our medical school that have graduated and are now in practice in some of the rural areas of Florida. So in those 15 years, we’ve got some of those success stories that have happened that way,” he said.

Another prime mission for the school is to recruit, train and graduate students of color. Again, Van Durme insisted his school has made great strides in this area.

“In the entire U.S., there are three medical schools at the historically black colleges and universities: Moorehouse, Meharry and Howard are three that are specifically an HBCU; historically black college. So they’re the top three. The number four in the country for the greatest percentage of African-American students is FSU.”

And, in light of a rapidly aging patient population, Van Durme said the students interact intensively with real, live older folks.

“We make sure they get exposed to a senior mentor to break down the barrier or thought process they may have of, ‘If you’re old, that means you’re in a nursing home and incontinent.’ And so we put them out with active seniors who say, ‘Yeah, I’m 75 years old and I’m still doing this; I’m 80 years old and I still play racquetball twice a week, etc.’”

All of which, Van Durme asserted, helps set Florida State’s College of Medicine apart from just about every other med school in the country.

“At some schools, they will say, ‘Look at our outstanding graduate!’ and they’re on the front cover of their magazine because they landed a neurosurgery residency at Harvard. We did that, too. We have a student in a neurosurgery program at Harvard. And we won’t put that kid on the front cover of our magazine. What we put on the front cover of our magazine in the family doc in Blountstown.”

But despite all the good news, Van Durme admitted there’s also one overriding bit of news that isn’t so good.

“Even if 100% of our graduates became family docs and stayed in Florida, we still need about five times that many.”

So he said the school is also ramping up its training programs for nurses, physician assistants – called PAs – and other support personnel to extend the patient serving capabilities of those doctors. Van Durme made his comments Wednesday (9/27) during the noon luncheon meeting of the League of Women Voters of Tallahassee.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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