Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Coffee, soda and a few gulps of fresh air got medical student Matthew Joy through what was probably the toughest test he’ll take in his lifetime.
Joy is among the 42 members of the charter class at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine who took the first part of the United States Medical Licensing Examination last year.
“It’s a very daunting exam,” said Joy, who is from the San Francisco area and plans to become a surgeon. “It takes all day to take it. It’s a battle of endurance. You find yourself in those last sections trying to stay focused and to hold it together.”
Dean Cynda Johnson was pretty happy last summer when she learned the scores for Joy and his fellow students. But she was positively ecstatic when recent data became available allowing her to see how Roanoke’s new medical school compares to its peers across the country.
“The mean for the country was almost a standard deviation below where our students scored,” she told me last week.
I could tell from her smile she was pleased, even if I had no idea what she was saying.
“So they’re above average?” I asked.
“I mean, like, way above,” Johnson said, helpfully bringing the conversation down to my level.
A spokeswoman at the National Board of Medical Examiners, which sponsors the tests, said the organization doesn’t rank schools or “stratify” them in a manner that allows it to say the Roanoke school is in the top X percent. Suffice it to say, we have some pretty smart men and women here in Roanoke who are well on their way to becoming doctors.
Last year’s test is the first of three that Joy and other medical students must pass in order to practice medicine. The first exam is usually taken at the end of the second year in medical school and is considered the most difficult. The exam contains 322 questions on basic sciences like microbiology, biochemistry and anatomy, and must be completed during a grueling eight-hour marathon.
Even so, all 42 Roanoke medical students passed on their first try. The overall pass rate for first-time test takers in U.S. and Canadian medical schools was 94 percent in 2011, the most recent data available.
“The difference between having all the students pass and having just one not pass is light years,” Johnson said.
If Johnson was on pins and needles, the students were feeling pretty loose.
“No one was surprised that we all passed,” Joy said. “We all had high expectations.”
The high scores are important to the students, who will be selected for residency programs primarily based on how well they performed on the exam.
But the scores also serve as the new medical school’s first national benchmark, a crucial milestone on its way to full accreditation.
“In terms of making a name for ourselves, this speaks well for us,” Joy said.
“It makes us feel a great deal of confidence in our curriculum,” Johnson added. “The critical outcome for us is our students’ success because the curriculum means nothing without our students.”
Johnson, Tech, Carilion, Roanoke, Joy and the other 41 students in the charter class stepped into the unknown when classes began in 2010. No new medical school had been established during the 1980s and 1990s. Starting one in Roanoke was an enterprise fraught with risk, but the payoff is fast approaching.
Two accrediting agencies, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, will conduct site visits in October.
The inaugural class graduates in May 2014, the final step required before the school can be approved for full accreditation the following month. The designation is retroactive so it covers the first group of students to complete their studies.
“We’re nearing the finish line,” Johnson said. “It’s been a very positive, affirming result. Everybody gets some credit for this.”
Weather JournalMany very icy despite 'bust' claims