Third-year University of Colorado medical students start clinical rotations in northern Colorado

Med students Nick Mason and Peter Boxley learn how to put on a splint

Nick Mason (left) and Peter Boxley, third-year medical students with the University of Colorado, learn how to use splints and casts for bone fractures or injuries during a training held at CSU Health and Medical Center. Photo: Joe Mendoza/CSU Photography

Peter Boxley is not a “big city guy,” so the opportunity to spend his third year as a medical student in northern Colorado was appealing. Originally from Fort Collins and with family in the area, Boxley completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago and is now enrolled at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

His third-year classmate, Nick Mason, also hails from Fort Collins, and has an undergraduate degree from Creighton University  in Omaha.

“It’s nice to learn more about the health care system here because, eventually, I’d like to come back to northern Colorado,” he said.

Boxley and Mason are among 11 CU medical students who applied for and were accepted to train in northern Colorado over the next year. The move to launch these clinical rotations is a first step in establishing a CU medical school branch in Fort Collins in partnership with Colorado State University and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The branch will be based on the fourth floor of the CSU Health and Medical Center, and the first four-year cohort of 12 students will matriculate in August 2021.

Expanding medical education in Colorado

The collaboration between CSU and CU’s School of Medicine to open a medical school branch in Fort Collins will expand medical education opportunities in the state and build on the strengths of both universities through an innovative, far-reaching curriculum.

Physician leaders of the new program have established local partnerships, engaged nearly 200 volunteer faculty and are revamping curriculum with a commitment to the latest teaching methods, including the use of virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Dr. Suzanne Brandenburg
Dr. Suzanne Brandenburg is the associate dean of the Fort Collins branch of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Photo: University of Colorado

“Our goal is to push the envelope and focus on active, integrative learning while taking advantage of technology,” said Dr. Suzanne Brandenburg, associate dean of the new program. “The Fort Collins area is known as being an outstanding medical community. Expanding medical education in northern Colorado has the potential to make things even stronger, and provide another dimension of satisfaction and opportunity for these top-notch clinicians.”

Brandenburg said the fact that local clinicians are stepping up during a global pandemic also speaks volumes about who they are.

“The clinicians who are taking the lead and all the volunteers are really committed to medical education,” she said. “It bodes well for the success of the program moving forward. I’m super appreciative of what everyone in the Fort Collins medical community has been doing.”

Brandenburg said the new partnership and clinical rotation structure will offer medical students an even better sense of how many different factors interconnect to impact health and individual patients.

“From the social determinants of health, to when and how human health is impacted by climate, to the interaction between humans, animals, and our planet, we’re trying to give students a very broad perspective as they launch their medical careers,” she added.

New clinical curriculum generates excitement

Dr. Kaitlin Heisel conducts a training for third year med students from the University of Colorado
Dr. Kaitlin Heisel from UCHealth is one of nearly 200 volunteer faculty in northern Colorado. Photo: Joe Mendoza/CSU Photography

Boxley and Mason said they are excited to take part in CU’s Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship, a new clinical curriculum in which students participate in comprehensive care of patients over time, maintain relationships with preceptors and evaluators, and meet core clinical competencies across multiple disciplines simultaneously.​

Dr. Amy Reppert, a general and trauma surgeon at UCHealth, is the director of the new curriculum. She said the new approach is taking medical education by storm.

“CU is converting completely to the new curriculum,” she said. The university joins other top medical schools in helping students learn more about the patient experience and disease processes from start to finish.

Reppert and Dr. Christie Reimer – now the assistant dean of the Fort Collins branch campus – recruited physicians who will serve as volunteer faculty this year, and in the years to come. The response has been phenomenal, said Reppert, with nearly 200 clinicians from UCHealth stepping forward to help serve as preceptors, mentors and instructors.

“The volunteer faculty or liaisons have recruited or actively engaged community practitioners interested in education,” said Reppert. “The energy the faculty is bringing to this project for the students is remarkable, and these liaisons are offering their time and energy to educate our students. The response has gone beyond what we imagined we would find.”

Boxley said he has been impressed with the physician instructors he’s met.

“As a child growing up, I didn’t appreciate the community that exists in Fort Collins,” he said. “People are kind and generous, and that extends to the medical community, based on the doctors that I’ve met so far. Being a student, it’s resource-rich, with teachers willing to invest in you and a community that’s willing to accept you learning in their midst. Northern Colorado is going to be a really good place for that, for all of us.”