For aspiring physicians, the start of the first year of medical school can be exciting and nerve-wracking, with lifestyle changes, a rigorous academic schedule and, for many, geographic relocation taking place all at once.
Administrators at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) can’t remove those challenges, but they can equip students with the tools to cope with them. The school’s orientation week, which this year took place July 26-29, aimed to ease the transition from undergraduate school to medical school for first-year students, and prepared returning students for some of the demands they’ll face during their second year.
Prior to orientation week, students in WVSOM’s Class of 2025 arrived on campus to have their photographs taken, receive their laptop computers and personal protective equipment and be fitted for the coats they’ll receive at the upcoming Convocation and White Coat Ceremony, which marks the first step in their medical school journey.
One focus of orientation was the school’s continued precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Linda Boyd, D.O., who joined WVSOM as vice president for academic affairs and dean weeks before orientation, said that although this year’s procedures represent a return to relative normalcy after the socially distanced 2020-21 academic year, the school is still making accommodations to keep students and employees safe.
“I’d like to say that COVID-19 is over, but it’s not,” Boyd told students. “Our students, staff and faculty are over 95 percent vaccinated. That creates an environment that allows us to be in a room together and an environment where you can get through school and not worry about getting sick. But having the vaccine doesn’t fully protect you, so I want you to be safe.”
To that end, WVSOM is placing students in alternating seats while attending in-person lectures, and grouping students into “pods” of four during labs to facilitate contact tracing in case of an outbreak, Boyd said. Additionally, all students and faculty are required to wear KN95 masks during labs and team-based learning sessions, and students are encouraged to remain masked in lectures. Boyd said WVSOM’s COVID-19 guidelines are similar to those being used by other higher education institutions for the opening of the academic year.
New students learned about WVSOM’s Academic Support and Intervention Resources (ASPIRE) department, which helps them adopt effective learning techniques and provides counseling to those who experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or sleep difficulties. Members of the ASPIRE staff spoke about the importance of maintaining wellness, managing stress and avoiding burnout; discussed suicide awareness and prevention; and hosted a scavenger hunt that had students roaming campus to promote exercise, outdoor activity, teamwork and creativity.
Other activities included WVSOM’s annual Resource Fair showcasing various services and retail establishments in and near Lewisburg, and a presentation by Lewisburg Police Chief Chris Teubert, who welcomed students to the city. Orientation week also included a number of opportunities for students to socialize, such as a “mix-and-mingle” icebreaker event, a mentor-mentee cookout in which first-year and second-year students met one another, and the annual President’s Reception, where students, faculty and staff came together to celebrate the start of the academic year.
At the start of orientation, James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., WVSOM’s president, told the incoming class that their medical education is designed to help prepare them for a career in any field of medicine. He encouraged students to remain hopeful through the obstacles they may face during their studies.
“You’re all trained to start off as generalists, and then you specialize during residency. Our goal is to give you a strong foundation so that you can go into any residency that you want. Before long, you’ll be making a difference in the lives of patients, and that’s the reason you’re here: to learn to take care of others,” Nemitz said. “I know a lot of you are nervous, but realize that you earned your seat. You deserve to be here.”
Boyd explained that one of the keys to success in medical school is consistent progress.
“Medical school is a marathon,” she said. “You have to pace yourself. The goal is to get to the finish line, and if you work slow and steady, you’ll achieve the goal of practicing medicine.
WVSOM’s Class of 2025 consists of 215 students.