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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA College of Medicine hosts medical ignorance academy

    The UA College of Medicine has developed a curriculum to further explain the realms of ignorance. Students branching out from this curriculum are taught to explore the unknown without the fear of being ignorant.

    The Summer Institute on Medical Ignorance was started in the ’80s to teach financially, economically and socially disadvantaged individuals. 

    This summer, SIMI accepted its largest group of participants: 92 total—46 medical students, 16 UA undergraduates and 30 high school students from Arizona. This was possible through a large grant by the Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health that provided summer stipends to students, salaries to teachers and curricular support to the program.

    By partaking in SIMI, students were exposed to laboratory and clinical research experience in the College of Medicine. Advanced individuals were able to conduct research at other institutes in the U.S., including Stanford University, University of California schools, John Hopkins University and universities abroad, including the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the Giannina Gaslini Children’s Hospital in Italy.

    At the end of the summer, students take what they have discovered from their research and faculty seminars and prepare final written reports, oral PowerPoint presentations and YouTube videos.

    Alice Ferng, a 2004 participant in SIMI and current physiology graduate student and medical student at the UA College of Medicine, describes her experience as one that, “emphasized [her] own beliefs in how science should be approached—through questioning and research.”

    Ferng conducted research through SIMI mentor Dr. Sanjay Ramakumar, which showed her that clinical and laboratory research was able to be balanced in daily life.

    Sarah Daley, a medical student and 2012 participant in SIMI, worked on research in the lymphology laboratory of Dr. Marlys Witte, director of the UA Medical Student Research Programs. She is continuing research in the field and will present the work at the World Congress of Lymphology conference in San Francisco this week.

    Pablo Hernandez is a psychology senior, continuous participant of SIMI since 2011, officer of the Biochemistry Club and a volunteer at Banner Health – University Medical Center Tucson. He studied pain pharmacology with Dr. Frank Porreca.

    “Ignorance was something that no one liked to admit,” Hernandez said. “You would shut it away and never promote it.” As he continues his research, he said his motivation stems from what is left to discover.

    Other participants in SIMI have also chosen to continue their research in a Research Distinction Track, which will provide credit to the student for their work given they fulfill additional requirements.

    Furthermore, nearly 10 percent of participants have entered or graduated from medical school, 5 percent have entered or received doctorates and many other individuals have pursued careers in other science fields. Since 1982, 1,110 fellowships have been awarded to SIMI students, and in recent news, medical students have started their own journal for UA medical student researchers.

    The foundation of the curriculum stems from Blaise Pascal’s paradigm, “Knowledge is like a sphere, the greater the volume, the larger its contact with the unknown.”

    Faculty encouraged students to ask questions and consistently reminded the students that all questions are of value. Daily “ignorance logs” were created on a password-protected online website and mobile app, and used in growing the individual’s understanding of ignorance.

    “Ignorance is what we know we don’t know, don’t know we don’t know, and think we know but don’t know,” Witte said. “It is the terrain of all knowledge and discovery, because we do not know as much as we claim to know.”

    Follow Priyanka Hadvani on Twitter.

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