FIU changing the future of medical education — for the better


Ten years ago, the Florida Legislature authorized creation of a medical school at FIU. In exchange, we promised to change the future of medical education and healthcare in our community.

A decade later, we have kept our promise.

We are training the next generation of physicians who understand the social determinants of health; who understand that your ZIP code is a better predictor of your health than your genetic code.

Students like Lisa Podolsky who understood that a homeless, hypertensive, diabetic patient she encountered during a family-medicine rotation didn’t need a lecture about maintaining a proper diet or prescriptions for medications she couldn’t afford; she needed a comprehensive plan of free medical and social support.

And students like Sean Hernandez who, when faced with a hospice patient who spent all the time knitting and never spoke, learned to crochet in order to ensure that the woman wouldn’t die alone. Lisa and Sean graduated in May. Lisa has matched into an OB/GYN residency at Rutgers, Sean will be training in Internal Medicine at Wake Forest.

They are part of the young legacy of FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and its unique and innovative curriculum. Its Green Family Foundation Neighborhood Health Education and Learning Program (NeighborhoodHELP™) sends interprofessional teams of FIU medical, nursing, social work and physician assistant students — supervised by faculty — to provide care and facilitate services to households in underserved neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County.

Since its inception, FIU students have conducted more than 6,000 household visits to more than 700 households, having an impact on some 2,000 household members. NeighborhoodHELP™ also runs mobile health centers that provide patients with primary and mental healthcare.

In 2014, the college launched the Linda Fenner 3D Mobile Mammography Center to help drive out breast cancer from South Florida neighborhoods known to have the highest rates of late-state breast cancer detection in the nation. So far, we have provided free screenings for almost 1,000 women. At least six of them have been diagnosed with breast cancer in its early stage when it is most responsive to life-saving treatment.

We are improving healthcare and saving lives. For every dollar invested in NeighborhoodHELP™, we are returning to the economy a total of $13.15 in economic and societal benefits.

These accomplishments are not going unnoticed. The Association for Medical Education in Europe, the leading international association for medical education, honored us with its 2016 ASPIRE Award for Social Accountability. Last year, we were one of only 21 schools chosen by the American Medical Association for its Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, which is studying ways to reshape medical education and physician training.

None of these accomplishments would have been possible without the support and help of our community and community partners — the households that open their doors to our students, the patients who put their health in our hands and the 160 community organizations that help bring us together. We are indebted to each and everyone of them.

We are also grateful for the tremendous support of our affiliated institutions and faculty. FIU does not own or operate its own hospital; rather, students receive training in a variety of South Florida’s finest health systems, hospitals, clinics and in-patient and outpatient settings. More than 1,000 volunteer, community-based faculty members give freely of their valuable time and invaluable expertise.

In 2009, we welcomed our first class of 43 students who are already practicing physicians, and some of them, like Dr. Hanadys Ale, are treating patients here in South Florida. Dr. Ale is in her last year of residency at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and will soon become the first fellow in the hospital’s Allergy and Immunology fellowship.

Many of our graduates, including 58 percent of the Class of 2016, are choosing careers in primary care where there is a critical need for physicians nationwide.

We are now at our full capacity of 480 students. We couldn’t be prouder of them, of our alumni, our faculty and our staff — and we couldn’t have made it this far without our community’s unwavering support.

John A. Rock, M.D. is founding dean and senior vice president for health affairs at FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.