BUFFALO, N.Y. — Just about every space inside the University at Buffalo’s newly constructed medical school is built to encourage contact among students and staff.
From the glass-walled offices and conference rooms stacked around a central atrium, lounge furniture grouped in sunny spaces and lecture hall desks that morph into conference tables, the design reflects the idea that medical school is ever more a group endeavor, say university officials, who are beginning to move in before the start of classes in January.
With higher education moving toward “active learning” — where students work together to gain understanding, as opposed to trying to absorb it all through lectures — the eight-story building is considered a much needed upgrade to the segmented 1950s-era buildings it replaces 6 miles away, said Dr. Michael Cain, dean of the medical school and vice president for health sciences.
“When I went to medical school in the ’70s, you had to memorize things because in the middle of the night at the patient’s bedside there was no ready access to information,” Cain said.
Today, there’s an app for that.
“So rather than teaching ‘these are all the side effects of a certain medicine, don’t ever forget them,’ you can spend more time on the use of that medicine, or how you use it better,” Cain said, “and those kinds of informational exchanges occur better and are more robust in small interactive groups.”
The University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine plans to phase out lectures altogether by 2019, though most medical schools, the University at Buffalo’s, will retain a lecture component.
“Our understanding of the science of learning has really expanded,” Dr. Alison Whelan, chief medical education officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, said of the shift.
The chance encounters made possible by the kinds of glass and open spaces in the Buffalo school and others being built or expanded are important too in helping physicians build a professional identity and feel a part of the community, Whelan said.
Among other features of the $375 million Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB:
— At 628,000 square feet, it allows the university to increase the capacity of its medical school class by 25 percent, to 180, at a time when the Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortfall of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030.
— Its location in the city’s medical corridor puts it near three teaching hospitals.
— Surgical and clinical simulation areas will let medical, nursing and pharmacy students interact and practice in lifelike scenarios.
— Modular open research laboratories provide for flexibility, with researchers able to expand or contract their space as needed.
— Architectural features include a color-changing two-story light tower visible from the outside and nearly 27,000 locally made terra cotta panels which form the building’s outer shell. The material is a nod to the city’s architectural style.