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Community school a repeat success down in Manchester

Motility wasn't on the syllabus, but DMS faculty used it to good effect this fall when they took the popular Dartmouth Community Medical School on the road to Manchester, N.H.

Don St. Germain, pictured at the lectern during last spring's series of Community Medical School classes in Hanover, found just as receptive an audience when he transported the course southward to Manchester this fall.
Photo: Joseph Mehling

Students of all ages filled a hall at Saint Anselm College for seven Tuesday evenings to learn more about the building blocks of life, to better understand the science behind many chronic illnesses, and to glimpse the future of biotechnology.

"People really do have a strong interest in health care and the related sciences," says John Sanders, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon who was one of the instructors. "Particularly with news articles, magazines, the Discovery Channel, and the Internet, they're probably better informed than ever—but don't necessarily have a good idea of what's valid and what's not valid."

Commitment: To fill that gap, DMS Dean John Baldwin, M.D., initiated the Community Medical School, a mini version of medical school for a lay audience. The inaugural session in Hanover last spring drew 300 people for weekly lectures on genetics, cancer, and heart surgery, to name a few of the topics covered. As part of its commitment to public education, DMS decided to repeat the course in Manchester this fall; 150 people paid $15 to sign up.

On the first night, Sheila Evjy of Windham, N.H., arrived about 15 minutes early. "I was amazed," she says. "There were almost no seats left." The retired vice president for nursing at Manchester's Elliot Hospital, she signed up because she was curious about how health-care organizations reach out to the public these days. "It's a lot more difficult for the average person to go to the library to get this information in some kind of form that will make sense without plowing through text for hours and hours," she says. "I think it's evident from the number of people who were there that there's a need for this."

State Senator Leo Fraser of Pittsfield, N.H., would probably agree. As a legislator, he's been involved with health-care issues for years. As a Community Medical School student, he has gained a better understanding of how the human body works, which he can apply to his work in the State House. "I'm going to be more comfortable listening to testimony on medical issues," he says. And personally, Fraser wanted to learn more about cancer, having lost his wife to breast cancer nearly a year ago. "It's no secret that the most devastating disease is cancer," he says.

Syllabus: For the most part, Community Medical School organizer Donald St. Germain, M.D., duplicated the successful Hanover syllabus in Manchester. However, he tinkered with the program a bit in response to feedback. In Manchester, balky audiovisual equipment wasn't a problem, and lecturers toned down the "blood and guts" visuals that some Hanover class members felt were too graphic.

And instead of small-group discussions on cancer treatment, the Manchester students heard a talk on skin cancer by Robert Willer, M.D., chair of dermatology and medical subspecialties at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic in Manchester. St. Germain says the small groups were too difficult to organize on the road.

"For the most part, the feedback was very, very positive," St. Germain says. "The guidance we got from our Hanover audience was 'Keep going.'"

Andrew Richards, a sophomore at Central High School in Manchester, was glad his mom had told him about the course— and that she was willing to drive him to Saint Anselm every Tuesday night. "I've found it very interesting," Richards says. He tried to persuade some of his friends to come, but "a lot of people that I hang out with want to be lawyers." Instead, Richards, who is thinking about being a doctor, talked his biology teacher into attending a few classes.

The Community Medical School will return to Hanover in the spring of 2000 with a new curriculum. Information on the course will be advertised in the press and posted on www.dartmouth.edu/dcms/, as it is available.

Service: Surgeon Sanders is ready to sign on again as an instructor. "I think it does a real public service, number one, but it's also good for the institution. . . . Physicians should be primarily educators of patients and families and help them make decisions about their care."

If the course returns to Manchester, Fraser hopes to be there again. An avid New England Patriots fan, he can see applications for his newfound medical knowledge beyond the capitol. "I hear a lot about knee injuries and ACLs," he says. "I would like to learn more about fractures."

As St. Germain is fond of saying, Dartmouth Community Medical School can help people become more informed patients. And, if Fraser has his way, more informed fans as well.

Julie Warwick

If you would like to offer any feedback about this article, we would welcome getting your comments at DartMed@Dartmouth.edu.

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