The University of Colorado’s new medical school at the Colorado State University Branch (CU SOM at CSU) will welcome its first four-year cohort of 12 medical students to Fort Collins in July. The branch offers new opportunities for student clinical education, as well as the opportunity to work with another of Colorado’s top universities.
Classes take place in the CSU Health and Medical Center, which opened in 2017. The fourth floor was purposely left unfinished when the building was originally built, and the new medical faculty room was completed in April 2020. What’s new is that collaboration is a long time coming.
“People have been talking about this idea for several years,” says Dr. med. Suzanne Brandenburg, Deputy Dean of Education at the CU School of Medicine, who is leading the establishment of the new branch. “When we looked at the CSU’s resources and expertise that complement our goals as a medical school, it made sense to consider a partnership as these are two of the most important research and educational institutions in the state.”
Holistic approach to health care
The CSU is known as one of the best veterinary schools in the country (it was ranked 3rd by US News & World Report in 2019). However, did the idea of a medical school partnering with a veterinary school raise your eyebrows?
“I think there was a little surprise at first,” says Brandenburg. “But the two schools already have a solid collaboration in the broader health sector.” She notes that the CSU is affiliated with the Colorado Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI), a program created on the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus and funded by the National Institutes of Health to transform clinical and health accelerate translational research and education efforts in improved health and patient care.
“There’s a significant amount of animal-to-human research going on at CSU,” adds Brandenburg, citing breakthroughs in cancer and cardiovascular research that began with animal studies before moving on to human studies .
According to Brandenburg, the pairing fits well with the CSU framework “One Health”, a holistic, transdisciplinary approach to health care that focuses on the interface between human, environmental and animal health.
“I believe that a company of this size needs to have a vision to run it. As I learned more about the One Health concept, it really brought together the goals of CU and the strengths of CSU. It speaks for the final result that we are hoping for, ”says Brandenburg. “We need our future health professionals to think about the bigger picture and work together to create a healthier society.”
New community for clinical training
The new facility also offers expanded clinical education opportunities, particularly for students interested in a less urban or less traditional academic setting.
“The medical community at Fort Collins is first class, and there are many integrated health care options for students to accompany patients on their health trips,” says Brandenburg. “The fact that this is a smaller subway area means we can train the medical students to better understand their entire community.”
Although the cohort will not enroll for a few months in 2025, some students have already started taking classes in the new branch and embed themselves in the Fort Collins health community. A group of 11 students from the CU Anschutz campus switched to the CSU branch in June last year for their third year at the CSU. According to Brandenburg, the feedback from both students and faculty has been extremely positive, which is testament to the high level of both the students and the Fort Collins-based clinical preceptors.
Third year students from the CU School of Medicine take courses on the new branch campus.
“I wanted clinical experience in a community hospital and clinic that would match the environment in which I am most likely to work as a treating physician,” says Sophia Wolfe, one of the CU students visiting the new facility. “Because the community is smaller than Denver, I’ve seen the same patients in different settings and specialties, which has helped build greater trust with them.”
Wolfe also mentioned that since there are fewer residents than Denver, especially in areas like surgery and obstetrics, every student gets extensive hands-on learning experiences.
Looking ahead to summer and welcoming the new class
Both Brandenburg and Wolfe hope that the introduction of vaccines for COVID-19 will enable current and new students to take full advantage of the new facilities soon. The open and airy space is built for collaboration. Small classrooms with moveable desks and screens on each wall replace large lecture halls, and there are several conference rooms for individual study and group work. There’s even a virtual reality lab where you can learn everything from basic anatomy to reading radiological images.
Within the CSU branch campus of the CU School of Medicine at the CSU Health and Medical Center.
For the first four years, each cohort in the new branch will be limited to about 12 students, but Brandenburg says that they will expand the program in the future. There will also be a cross between the Fort Collins campus and the Anschutz campus.
“We want our incoming students to build a community with the entire medical school class. So there will be times when you will spend time on the Anschutz campus and learn with the larger group, ”says Brandenburg. She adds that there will likely be clinical rotations in the fourth year of students, available only on the CU Anschutz campus and affiliates in a traditional academic medicine setting as they prepare for entry into the residence.
Brandenburg believes, however, that the new branch campus will also be a boon for students at Anschutz. “As an example, we’re building some exciting research connections that I think will resonate with some of them,” she says. “This cooperation is a win-win situation for both institutions and for all of us on so many levels.”