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Collaboration with the Texas A&M Health Science Center broadens the perspective of future physicians

July 16, 2015

Cecilia Benz, M.D.

Cecilia Benz, M.D., just graduated from the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and is packing up to begin her general surgery residency training at the University of North Dakota. She says she’s not just leaving A&M with a degree, but with a new perspective.

This May, Benz received her Doctor of Medicine degree, and also a graduate certificate in Advanced International Affairs from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

Benz is the first student to complete the graduate certificate program at the College of Medicine, but certainly won’t be the last. The partnership with the Bush School is one of many the College of Medicine is cultivating across the A&M University system to provide the best and most well rounded educational experience possible for its graduating physicians. This is just one component to an ever-expanding educational approach dedicated to providing customizable education for its students.

“This experience enhanced my medical education and gave me a new perspective,” said Benz. “I know these additional courses have made me a better informed health care provider by allowing me to delve into understanding the larger global structure of medicine. I’ll also be able to better relate to my patients, particularly those from an immigrant background.”

Ruth Bush, M.D., J.D, M.P.H., vice dean for academic affairs and vice dean for the Bryan/College Station Campus of the College of Medicine, explained that the courses count towards their medical school credit hours and fit well with the new curriculum being introduced with the incoming Class of 2019, which allows for Areas of Concentration (or AOC’s) during the fourth year. She adds that the new curriculum and the certificate program help to “round out” the educational experience at the College of Medicine.

“This is such an added value for our students and we hope to see many more explore this option,” said Bush. “Not only does it place medicine in another context and expose them to thoughts and information they may have never seen before, but it has a direct added value as our students compete for residency matches during their fourth year. This is another step toward making students as competitive as possible for their residency matches.”

The graduate certificate courses are online and led by faculty who are actively engaged in research and located across the United States lending to a multi-faceted experience.

Benz completed the certificate courses during her final semester of medical school in a four course, 12 credit hour session. While Benz chose the Advanced International Affairs concentration, the Bush School also offers certificates in Nonprofit Management and Homeland Security. All certificates can be taken over a schedule tailored for the individuals educational and time-sensitive needs. Benz’s certificate was concentrated to a 15 week period, but options are available to complete the certificate program over longer periods.

“These courses were particularly challenging in addition to my other medical school courses and obligations,” explained Benz. “I am thankful for my professors at the Bush School who were incredibly supportive and understanding of my medical school commitments.”

Lisa Brown, director of Extended Education at the Bush School, explained that 80 percent of the students who take the graduate certificate course credits are full-time professionals and about 20 percent are active or former military.

“Many of these students are already engaged in public service, which brings a wealth of experience to share among themselves, enriching the course conversations and allowing students to be exposed to and absorb a wealth of knowledge,” said Brown. “Such an interprofessional group of students really enhances the discussion based portions. They’re learning to be critical consumers of information and interpretations.”

Benz explained that she “absolutely recommends” the program to other students. And while she may not be able to directly apply her knowledge of international affairs until after residency, she plans to stay involved with the politics of medicine and hopes to continue to work toward “sustaining health care founded on a good education and helping broaden the perspectives of other physicians, here and outside of the US.”

“Texas A&M and the Bush School showed me the importance of my role in providing care, but also in catalyzing change by educating my peers and patients. It also reinforced the importance of taking the initiative to make changes in health care that will directly impact my practice – as well as the lives of those that I may never treat first-hand,” Benz said.

Written by Katherine Hancock, Texas A&M Health Science Center

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