Transforming Medical Education: The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at The University of Vermont

uvmmedicine blogger Soraiya Thura '18
uvmmedicine blogger Soraiya Thura ’18

Dr. Robert Larner has had a long history of being committed to the University of Vermont. What has set him apart as a philanthropist is his desire to plant a seed that will continue to grow, and to provide a foundation for a sustainable path of change for medical education.

His latest gift to our medical school is absolutely transformational. All of his contributions to the UVM College of Medicine, now The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at The University of Vermont, have helped to reshape the way that we think about medical education. In just the two years that have passed since I started here, I have seen medicine come to life right before my eyes. Our various active learning and team-based learning (TBL) activities have given me and my classmates the opportunity to think critically about difficult clinical problems in a safe setting, and in a way that we could engage in discussion and learn from each other. I think back on the many hours that my TBL group spent in the Larner classroom together, debating about our answers to questions (sometimes painfully so!), and I remember that the best aspect of all of these activities was hearing the perspective of my very intelligent classmates. And even though I’ve moved from a focus on the basic sciences to the clinical clerkships, there are still some concepts explained by fellow classmates and our faculty members that I remember from those sessions.

The healthcare environment is a dynamic one; thus, the practice of medicine is also changing. It is absolutely essential that the way we learn medicine reflects these changes. I believe that the renaming of our medical school to The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine is a strong reflection of the values and goals that our faculty, students, staff, and alumni have for our education: to develop future physicians and scientists who are patient-focused, innovative, progressive thinkers, who give back to their communities.

As a student trustee member of the University of Vermont Board of Trustees, Soraiya Thura ’18 was invited to speak at the naming announcement September 23 on behalf of her peers at the College. The following are her remarks:

Good afternoon all! I am honored to speak to you today during this historic time in my medical school’s history, as a student voice and representative of my University. Needless to say, it is a monumental occasion.  It is a time for us to celebrate Dr. Larner’s generosity and commitment to UVM, and an opportunity for us to celebrate a common thread that I believe ties each of us together.

When I look back to the stressful time of applying to medical school (a time that I know many students use “selective memory” to forget!) I remember that what I wanted was to come to a place where I could make an impact on the lives of others. As a very impatient 22 year old, I didn’t want to wait until graduation to be given this opportunity. I wanted the chance to feel like I could contribute something to my class and to my community every day. With only 24 hours in a day, and also the pressure to, you know, actually study a bit of medicine, I thought this was a tall order to ask of any school.

Shortly after starting my medical education here, I realized that I clearly was not alone in my aspirations. The students that choose to come here, and the faculty and staff that teach and work here, are what set our medical school apart. The people here have a certain grit, a never-give-up type of attitude that makes us challenge the norms of medical education. An attitude that makes us push boundaries and go where other medical schools have not yet ventured. The constant dialogue about how we can do better is our way of expressing one very important thing: We want to be trained in the BEST way to be the BEST physicians for our patients.

My classmates and I are at UVM at a very exciting time. Already, we are benefiting from the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Larner including the Larner Loan Program which currently helps fund nearly half of our medical students, the innovative Larner and Reardon classrooms where we engage in team-based learning, the Teaching Academy which facilitates educator development, and the life-like “Harvey” cardiopulmonary stimulators that helped us learn that heart murmurs are real (and not just imaginary sounds).  These technologies intertwine so beautifully with UVM College of Medicine’s commitment to advancing medical education.

By so generously giving to support medical education in a sustainable way, Dr. Larner is shaping the future of medicine for myself, my classmates, and for generations to come. I can say with confidence, that UVM College of Medicine is the best equipped medical school in the nation to meet the challenges of an ever-changing health care landscape. This is because UVM is home to individuals who work hard to learn, improve, and dedicate their lives so selflessly to the care of other people. I know this is true because I have been fortunate enough to get to know so many of you in this room personally. And I believe that this drive to give back and inspire others in Dr. Larner’s DNA, is in each of our DNA as well. THIS is the common thread that will make the UVM College of Medicine education “second to none.”

Today, I know without a doubt that Dr. Larner believes in me. He believes in every student standing behind me; every alumnus who was a student here; and thanks to this incredibly generous gift, every student who will walk through this door to begin their medical education will know he believes in them too. Thank you, Dr. Larner, for providing countless opportunities for us to be the best physicians we can be, at the university that we love, will always remember and someday will give back to.

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