A University of New Mexico student and faculty interest group is being honored for helping first-year medical students prepare for the hands-on clinical training they receive as part of UNM’s internationally recognized medical school curriculum.

The American Academy of Family Physicians will recognize the UNM Family Medicine Interest Group (FMIG) with its 2016 Excellence in Collaboration Award on July 29 in Kansas City, Kansas.

Sponsored by the UNM Department of Family and Community Medicine, the group collaborated with similar interest groups from the departments of Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine to prepare first-year medical students for the Practical Immersion Experience (PIE), which requires students to participate in summer clinical rotations in rural and underserved communities across the state.

Medical schools sponsor interest groups, organized and maintained by students and faculty, to provide students with a chance to learn more about their future careers in medicine, according to Elizabeth Grant, MD, assistant professor and associate program director in the UNM Department of Family and Community Medicine. While membership is voluntary, she said, the vast majority of the incoming medical school students participate.

“The FMIG is a great way to interact with physicians, find a mentor and understand more fully what practicing in family medicine will be like,” said Daphne R. Olson, a former FMIG president, who along with another former president and the current group president, will accept the Excellence in Collaboration Award next month.

The winning project began in 2014 when Olson and her board came up with the idea of working with interest groups from other departments to prepare students for their six-week clinical experience, which begins the summer after the first year of medical school.

“Everyone loves having the PIE experience,” said current FMIG President Lucia Y Xiong. “Very few medical students at other medical schools are allowed such a hands on experience so early in their studies.”

But that kind of opportunity can cause anxiety, said Olson. 

“One of the goals of the group has been to create workshops that can provide students with information about the experience in a very interactive way,” she said.

“My year we were able to pull it off with more than 70 students attending out of our 100-person class. Then this year, Lucia and her officers put it on again and we were able to apply for this award,” said 2015 FMIG president Katherine H Ogawa.

While the goals have been to augment the PIE experience by providing useful clinical information, it was also important that the information be given in a useful way.

“At our event this spring we knew we wanted each station to focus on a process that could give useful information.  For instance, at the internal medicine station, diabetes information was given through a Jeopardy game-like experience,” Ogawa said.

As a result of the workshops, students began their PIE rotations with more information and contacts, the presidents said. The project is continuing to expand, and the FMIG is now working with four other student groups.

“Attracting medical students to family medicine is critical to addressing the ongoing primary care physician shortage,” said Clif Knight, MD, senior vice president for education at the American Academy of Family Physicians. “These groups are an important component to these efforts and essential to helping medical students understand the professional responsibilities and satisfaction of being a family physician.”