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School of Medicine discoveries

June 21, 2016

How to get a head start and a leg up

Pre-Matriculation Program

Four medical students, including Chris Filosa, are teaching assistants in the Pre-Matriculation Program. They’re giving participants a head start with coursework, tips and techniques for succeeding in medical school.

Wei-Li Suen has a master’s degree in piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music. In four more years, he intends to have his M.D. from VCU – a goal that came into focus more clearly as he worked his way through the Pre-Matriculation Program this June. “It was great practice to balance the course work with the piano performances I had in June,” he says.

Assistant Dean for Admissions Donna Jackson, Ed.D., nods her head in agreement. “This program is ideal for those students who need a head start for any number of reasons,” she explains, “often because they were liberal arts – not science – majors in college.”

Work/life balance. And so this year, 20 students chose to give up a month of their summer to plunge into the coursework that awaits all their first-year classmates who’ll matriculate in August. “It helped that these classes don’t factor into our medical school record,” confides Suen. It also helped that they were led by four inspiring teaching assistants. Medical students Chris Filosa, Jessica Li, Iffie Ikem and Jon Williams – all entering their second year on the MCV Campus — were pre-matric students themselves at this time last year, so they personally understand the challenges and rewards of the program.

“We want to make it a realistic experience for these students,” says Filosa. “In just one month, they get a good idea of what to expect. It’s tough, but they bond, and if you have a core group of friends, it becomes easier. We teach them not to sweat the small stuff.”

Pre-Matriculation Program

Rows of students line up to thump the classroom walls. They’re practicing a technique called percussion – using sounds to assess underlying structures. The studs behind the wall are a temporary stand in for students who’ll one day tap a patient’s back to listen and assess whether the lung is filled with air or fluid.

Find the studs. Despite all the technological advances in medicine, the hands-on physical remains important. Students are taught a technique called percussion – using sounds to assess underlying structures. Air, solids and fluid all have distinct noises, so when physicians tap a patient’s back to assess lung health, they can tell, for instance, if the lung is filled with air or fluid. That’s why rows of students line up to thump the classroom walls in order to locate the wooden studs underneath. It’s good practice — tapping the stud produces a different sound from tapping an empty wall.

One for all, all for one. After a month, the class has bonded, just as Filosa predicted. “Every small victory is a victory for all of us,” Ikem emphasizes. “Keep in touch with each other on the Facebook page. Say hi if you see us. We’re here for you. We’re paying it forward — that’s why we signed up for this.”

Five years in, the program is a success. “I do monitor these students,” Jackson says. “They tend to do better in med school. Many become student leaders. And they’re all better prepared for the daily rigor and the school/life balance. That’s good experience for them, and reflects back well on the school.”

By Susie Burtch

Name Pre-Matriculation Program
Purpose Exposure to the curriculum before starting med school
Founded 2011
Length Four weeks in June
Students 25 maximum
Courses Anatomy; Biochemistry; Physiology; Practice of Clinical Medicine (PCM)
Finances Housing, parking and gym access paid; stipend for food and incidentals

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine
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Updated: 04/29/2016