The dust has cleared.

What were conceptual sketches and hundreds of pages of construction blueprints are now the new learning spaces for students and faculty on the UICOMP campus.

New technology, a new technology-rich classroom, a new anatomy wing, and student oasis were part of an aggressive – yet very essential – series of upgrades this year on the UICOMP campus to help change the way the College of Medicine teaches future physicians.

The renovations also were crucial for the addition of first-year medical students in Peoria – a first in the College’s 47-year history. In all, about 10,000 square feet of space underwent some improvement.

“There’s new excitement and energy on campus,” says Regional Dean Sara Rusch of the additional students and upgrades on the Peoria campus. “The transition in our teaching style is the most remarkable part. Creating this innovative space has allowed us to change the way we teach – to use small group learning and technology to teach students how to problem solve.”

Walk into the new OSF HealthCare Learning Studio and you will find yourself awash in bright LED lighting and immersed in technology. The newest classroom on campus also is the biggest and most-wired. Computer-based monitors line the walls, as do tables, microphones, and charging stations that make up the individual pods where groups of students work together as teams.

“The space is beautiful but moreover it’s functional,” says Leslie Hammersmith, UICOMP’s Assistant Dean for Technology Enhanced Education.

It has to be. The newly adopted medical curriculum is about 90 percent based in active learning, meaning far more group work among students and dramatically less time for traditional lecture.

Just beyond the Learning Studio is plush seating and a dynamic open atmosphere. As its name implies, the UnityPoint Hea th Student Oasis has become a favorite among many students seeking comfortable sanctuary to gather and study. The Sandra Rusch Learning Room and Senior Scholar Learning Room boast large monitors and conference tables, which have proved ideal for small group work – a big component of team-based learning.

Beyond UICOMP’s Department of Pathology is a huge, new addition to the medical school. The Anatomy wing includes a cadaver lab and technology-assisted anatomy lab. Both rooms, in addition to two locker rooms, a bathroom, and the hallway that connects them are sealed off from the rest of the building’s ventilation system.

The Anatomy Lab has eight stainless steel tables and cadavers for traditional dissection. The Technology-Assisted Anatomy Lab houses UICOMP’s new Anatomage table, a high resolution, virtual dissection table as well as mobile sonography units. They are currently in the process of installing six virtual reality stations that will be used for new anatomy curriculum being developed.

“In terms of teaching and learning, to have these two labs together and to be able to combine all of the technology with traditional cadaver dissection is something you won’t find anywhere else – it was really innovative thinking,” said David Dominguese, a Research Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Director of Technology-Based Medical Education at UICOMP.

Recruitment, Training, and Retention

With the new space, new curriculum, and students now spending all four years in Peoria better positions both the medical school and the community, says Dr. Rusch.

“We are phasing in a new curriculum that is more clinically-relevant, provides greater clinical experiences, incorporates broader areas of health, uses innovative educational methodologies, and focuses on student wellness and resilience. Whether they want to become a primary care physician in a rural community, a neurosurgeon, or an academician, we are preparing them with the skillsets they need,” said Dr. Rusch. “This is a tremendous opportunity because of their time here to also bind our medical students to Peoria. So while they may have the opportunity to go anywhere and do anything, we hope they choose to stay – or after leaving for additional training, return to Peoria – to practice medicine.”

(This article is part of the Winter 2017-18 edition of Pathways.)