Students entering BS-MD programs face a unique set of problems. These students experience the same adjustment challenges typical of freshman college students, ranging from difficulties in adapting to a new academic environment with new expectations and new rules to worries about making new friends and learning about various locations on campus. Add to this the stress of the accelerated and integrated nature of some BS-MD programs, and the typical problems of the first-year college student are magnified.
Many colleges attempt to address these students' problems by requiring them to complete a freshman orientation course.1 Such courses generally teach a mix of academic and social survival skills. The former component introduces students to college-level work by focusing on topics such as time management, note taking, and the use of the library. The latter component strives to involve students in campus life and to foster early interactions among peers and with faculty. Orientation courses are thought to contribute significantly to student retention and early college success.1
Beginning in 1991, and in the spirit of innovation that typifies our school,* we instituted at the City University of New York Medical School/Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education (SBE) a new system that combines the required freshman seminar course and our system of academic advising. In an effort to foster relationships between advisors and their advisees, advisors began teaching the college-required freshman orientation course (F0100) to their own advisees. This resulted in an immediate once-per-week, ongoing contact between advisors and their advisees for the first semester of the academic year. Many advisors teach in the latter two years of the SBE program, so our advising system also gives students access to medical school faculty from the first day they arrive on campus. The intent of this sustained contact is to provide an opportunity to form workable relationships that will go beyond FO100 into the remainder of the students' academic careers.
Combining academic advisement for freshman students in a integrated BS-MD program with a freshman orientation course taught by medical school faculty who agree to serve as advisors has resulted in both greater student satisfaction, as monitored by post-course questionnaires, and increased student performance. The mean grade-point average after completion of the first year has shown a steady upward trend since the introduction of the advising system in 1991, while the high school grade-point average of entering students has remained relatively constant. This system combines the well-documented effects of early intervention in the freshman year, small-group interaction, and the fostering of advisor and advisee relationships.1 We believe that similar systems could be of value for other integrated BS-MD programs, and could be useful in modified form at traditional medical schools, particularly in dealing with at-risk students.
1. Boudreau CA, Kromrey JD. A longitudinal study of the retention and academic performance of participants in a freshman orientation course. J College Student Development. 1994;35:444–9.
*SBE was among the earliest medical schools to emphasize increasing the numbers of generalist physicians, medical students from underrepresented minorities, and physicians practicing in underserved urban communities.