Home to the first regional branch medical campus in Northern Virginia, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine leads the way for the future of medical education.

Up to 50 VCU third- and fourth-year medical students may choose to complete their final two years of medical school on the grounds of the Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va. Their decision, said Isaac Wood, M.D., senior associate dean of medical education and student affairs at the VCU School of Medicine, may initially be based on the campus location — a significant draw to those with ties to Northern Virginia — but the true benefit of the Inova Campus is that it gives students another venue in which to learn.

“There are going to be students that learn best in an environment where there is a small group of people and they are working with attendings more than housestaff,” Wood said. “There are going to be others who find that the learning environment that best suits them is a busy, university-based health care system with housestaff, students and trainees from various disciplines.

“It allows them to assess their educational goals and say, ‘this is the site that best meets my needs to become a physician,’” he added.

With family in Northern Virginia, VCU medical student Nabil Altememi had considered completing his third and fourth years at Inova. But he didn’t finalize his decision until speaking with doctors and classmates on the campus.

“They told me about a lot of the benefits Inova students see — the individualized learning and more time with attendings because of the smaller groups,” said Altememi, now beginning his fourth year on the Inova Campus. “And that’s exactly what I’ve found.”

‘Moore’ conveniences

Much of the Inova student experience takes place in the new Claude Moore Health Education and Research Center — a state-of-the-art, five-story, $25 million facility for medical education, clinical training and research. The first and second levels provide educational space for the VCU School of Medicine, outfitted with extensive teleconferencing capabilities, administrative offices, a self-directed learning center and classrooms.

“It’s very convenient, centrally located next to the key core clinical areas,” said Craig Cheifetz, M.D., assistant dean for medical education, VCU School of Medicine Inova Campus. “It’s almost across the street from the students’ free parking, and the classrooms and lockers are all connected to the dean’s office.”

Designated for VCU expansion, the center’s third level will consist of additional classrooms, conference rooms and a computer lab. The fourth level will include equipment for simulation-based clinical skills training, while the fifth level will house the Inova Research Center, a uniquely designed and integrated research facility with a functional assessment lab — the second one in the D.C. area aside from the National Institutes of Health.

“It’s going to offer the whole spectrum of everything that you want to see in a university-based hospital setting,” Wood said.

Cultural enrichment

Studying on the Inova Campus also introduces VCU students to cultures and health issues from around the world, thanks to its central location near Washington, D.C.

“Without leaving Northern Virginia, our students get to see patients from other countries and varying socioeconomic backgrounds,” Cheifetz said. “Students also gain firsthand experience treating diverse diseases — an opportunity that wouldn’t be available without international travel through the area.”

Inova’s diverse patient population is one of the reasons that VCU initially partnered with the health system, said James Messmer, M.D., retired senior associate dean for medical education, VCU School of Medicine. Other factors included Inova’s history of medical education and its Level 1 Trauma Center status.

The result, Messmer said, has been two cohesive campuses that provide a broad educational experience for all students.

“The vision of the school and the university has paid off,” Messmer said.

Bright future

The partnership’s achievements continue through the successful matching of Inova students to prestigious residency programs at the nation’s top institutions.

“We’ve hit a grand slam almost two years in a row,” Cheifetz said.

With the Claude Moore building providing the capabilities to house even more VCU students, the future of the Inova Campus shines bright.

“I see Inova becoming the model branch campus that others wish to emulate,” Cheifetz said. “I see this campus as a feeding program for reinvigorating primary care and the practice network in Northern Virginia, and creating the next generation of physicians and educators.”

Future doctor Altememi agreed.

“Overall, the Inova Campus has been a great experience, and I think that it will only get better,” he said.