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Inside the new UB medical school

At the opening ceremony last month of the new University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Dr. Michael Cain told the hundreds of people in attendance that the event marked a “long-awaited reunion.”

It was a comment with deep meaning and historical roots for the school and city. From 1893 to 1953, the medical school operated just steps away from the $375 million, 628,000-square-foot building at 955 Main St. on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The school then shifted its location to UB’s South Campus. Now, 64 years later, it was returning to where advocates of a move had long argued that it belonged: back downtown next to key teaching hospitals and the region’s major research centers.

“It reunites our faculty conducting research, who have been located on the university’s South Campus, with those involved in patient care in our partner institutions,” Cain, who is vice president for health sciences at UB and dean of the Jacobs School, said at the opening.

“This building fully integrates medical education into Buffalo’s growing academic health center, emphasizing interdisciplinary collaboration and strengthening our relationships with our clinical partners.”

The UB medical school does not have a hospital of its own. By moving, the school is now close to its affiliated physicians in UBMD Physicians’ Group at Conventus, John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, Buffalo General Medical Center, Gates Vascular Institute, UB’s Clinical and Translational Research Center, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, and other medical and research organizations.

The new building allows the Jacobs School to expand its class size by 25 percent, from 144 to 180 students, training many more doctors to address local and national physician shortages. By 2021, the school’s total enrollment will reach 720 students. The school also is increasing the size of its faculty, with a goal of 860 by 2020. In all, 2,000 faculty, staff and students will be at the building daily.

The move also coincides with UB’s plan to introduce a new curriculum in the fall, a nationwide trend in response to changes in health care, society and technology. The focus now increasingly centers on teamwork, earlier clinical experience, problem-solving, communication skills, and training in new technology. The goal is to prepare students to work in a health care landscape that, in addition to hospitals and doctors’ offices, includes urgent care centers, specialty clinics, retail clinics, robot surgery and outpatient surgery centers.

Among other changes, there are “flipped” classrooms that can quickly transition from lectures to small groupings of desktops and back again to lecture formats. In addition, traditional lecture halls are augmented by rooms for breaking into smaller groups, with an emphasis on team-based learning with students in other health professions, such as nursing and pharmacy.

All the changes reflect that different people learn in different ways. That’s one reason why, throughout the building, you will find lounges, study areas at which to work alone or in groups, and congregation zones in which to hang out and encourage chance interactions among students, doctors and researchers.

The aesthetics of the building are striking, with an exterior wrapped by nearly 28,000 locally made terra cotta panels. Amid the modern design, two 19th century lanterns, which had illuminated the vestibule of UB’s medical school on High Street from 1893 to 1953 as gaslights, are back in their original role after years apart.

Other features include a remodeled NFTA Allen/Medical Metro Station with its colorful public art sculpture called “Gut Flora” by Shasti O’Leary Soudant.

The new UB Medical School on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

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