Almost every Thursday for eight years, associate professor Steven Weiss has finished his philosophy lectures at Augusta State University, steered his Toyota down Walton Way and arrived in a Georgia Health Sciences University classroom as the only person without a white coat.
As an academic, he’s there to offer a roomful of future doctors a way of thinking often lost in medical jargon.
When the class discusses the benefits of male circumcision, Weiss asks a student how he would explain that to a new mother. If the lecture centered on terminal diagnoses, Weiss explains how to have an end-of-life discussion with a patient.
“It’s not just about the pathology, it’s not just about this lump or this prostate cancer, it’s, ‘How does this physician and patient work together?’” Weiss said. “It’s talking about the human side of medicine.”
Weiss leads a discussion group of an Essentials of Clinical Medicine class at the medical college with Reynolds Jarvis, an associate professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at GHSU. They each bring their expertise together to explain medical logistics and the ethics that go with it.
“They’re learning pathology and how to deal with patients, and I’ll just sit there and say ‘OK, pretend that I’m the patient’s mother. Translate medical lingo into something I can understand,’” Weiss said.
Since well before merging ASU and GHSU into one institution was publicly discussed, professors from both schools have been collaborating for lectures, papers, research and other unions. Faculty members say that with the consolidation approved Jan. 10, they see an opportunity for more relationships between departments to improve the student experience.
Carol Rychly, ASU’s acting vice president for academic affairs, said the consolidation will make collaboration between professors easier than before.
In the past, the presidents of both schools had to sign an interinstitutional agreement and wait for the University System of Georgia to approve the paperwork. Without the formality, Rychly said professors and departments will have an easier time collaborating to the benefit of the students.
“We will have more opportunities to meet with one another and find some of these other natural connections we wouldn’t normally recognize,” she said. “I think one of the real advantages is it gives (students) exposure to contexts that maybe they wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.”
Rychly said these collaborations have been going on between various departments for more than a decade, often originating as grass-roots ideas from the professors.
From the psychology department, ASU professor Deborah South Richardson also directs the educational research fellowship at GHSU. With the fellowship, she helps GHSU faculty pose questions with an educational context in their research projects.
Last year, one of her fellows developed a curriculum for fourth-year medical students interested in pediatrics and examined its effectiveness. Another developed a curriculum to teach pediatricians about breast-feeding.
“It’s been a very natural connection,” Richardson said.
And when he returns to teaching next school year, ASU President William Bloodworth said he intends to use doctors as guest lecturers for the Literature of Medicine class he will debut in 2013.
It’s a partnership he said he planned before talks of the merger but one that will be more organic after the schools are joined.
As far as how students benefit, second-year medical student Sarah Pettyjohn said everyone needs a reminder about the humanity in medicine.
“It keeps us sharp with the patient’s perspective, because you can get a little tunnel-visioned,” Pettyjohn said.