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Medical Education

Discovery and Innovation Take the Forefront of Inquiry Immersion

February 16, 2018

Last month, Bridges Class of 2021 completed their first Inquiry Immersion, an introduction to the breadth of research, innovation, and scholarship available to them at UCSF and beyond.  Over two weeks they explored a range of scientific domains, engaged with a current controversy in healthcare, and looked ahead to their own contributions and discoveries.

“In general, the Inquiry element of the Bridges Curriculum helps students recognize the limits of current knowledge and develop an appreciation for the methods of discovery in a diverse set of scientific disciplines termed the UCSF Domains of Science,” said Scott Oakes (at left), MD, Professor of Pathology and Course Director for Inquiry Immersion.

“Inquiry is the acquisition of new knowledge. UCSF is a very special environment, with its spectrum of basic, translational, and clinical research. People are really inventing the next generation of medicine here. Rather than have students sit in the classroom and hope they will somehow later feel empowered to play a role in inquiry, students should be part of the process from the beginning. That was the idea behind Inquiry Immersion.”

To start, each student chose one of 19 unique Mini-Courses during their individualized Inquiry Immersion.  These small-group seminars explored a current controversy or major knowledge gap in healthcare over 12 hours of class time and many hours of independent study over the two weeks.  Renowned UCSF faculty experts from across campus proposed, designed, and led each seminar based on their own research.  The range of topics reflected UCSF’s rich academic diversity: from ‘climate change medicine’ to ‘cosmetic psychiatry’; the ‘science of anti-aging’ to the ‘hero physician.’  Working closely with their faculty leads, students produced capstone documents summarizing their findings, and presented their work as ‘lightning talks’ at the Immersion Showcase on January 19.  

In addition to these mini deep dives, Immersion aimed to inspire and broaden students’ perspectives on Inquiry. Each Domain of Science was represented by a prominent faculty leader and multiple student researchers. Margot Kushel, MD, and Robert Wachter, MD, were just two of the campus leaders who shared their unique expertise.  Internationally recognized researchers from Stanford and Harvard, Mary Leonard, MD and Christine Seidman, MD, were also welcomed to campus as plenary speakers, providing students with ’Inquiry Keynotes' on their work and career paths. 

New this year was a session titled Beyond Science led by Louise Aronson, MD, MFA, Professor of Geriatrics and Director of UCSF Medical Humanities.  A physician-writer, Dr. Aronson shared with students the importance of storytelling in patient care, professional development, and communication about science and medicine. “In the many fields of medical scholarship other than science, our goal is to tackle the complex personal, ethical, economic, environmental, cultural, political, and existential realities of human lives, policies, and institutions,” said Dr. Aronson. “This sort of inquiry recognizes the essential value of individual experience and often involves more analysis, synthesis, and meaning-making than measurement.”       


“After a two-week Immersion course, our students have been fully exposed to the six domains of science plus a seventh category of scholarship,” said Dr. Oakes. “Add to that new knowledge about the responsible conduct of research and skills in proposal writing for project funding, our students are well positioned to succeed in scholarly work as they progress through their careers.”