Lee Learman, dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, laid out his early vision for the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine to the Board of Visitors on Monday.

Learman was named dean of the medical school in January and took over the role on July 1. Over his four months officially in the role, Learman has been learning about the medical school, the university, and its partnership with Carilion Clinic while setting forth a vision for the school’s next phase.

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine welcomed its first class in 2010 and has graduated six classes – 240 students in total – all who have successfully matched to residency programs across the country. On July 1, 2018, the medical school became an official college of Virginia Tech, having previously operated as a private institution.

Soon after integration with the university, Learman was named dean. He sees the timing as ripe to nurture some of the school’s best features while looking for opportunities for growth and improvement.

Learman noted to the board that what excited him most about the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine was the partnership between Virginia Tech – a public, research-intensive university – and Carilion Clinic – a regional health care organization that provides clinical care and expertise to nearly 1 million patients. The partnership has allowed an academic health care center to emerge. He shared a video that highlights the partnership along with its accomplishments and vision for the future.

Learman said he was also excited about the achievements of its students. The most recent class to enroll – just a few weeks after Learman’s arrival – had more than 4,400 applicants for 43 spots. The classes of 2014-20 have earned scores on the United States Medical Licensing Exams above the national average.

Learman told the board that the medical school is focused on its mission of developing physician thought leaders, in particular, graduating students who will be scientist physicians. The medical school has an intensive research curriculum than spans the four years of study. Students must complete an original, hypothesis-driven research project of significant scope in order to graduate.

“The research curriculum is spread across the entire curriculum, allowing students the time to complete a project of interest to them that is robust enough to present at regional, national, and international conferences and, often, publish in journals,” said Learman. “This training prepares our students to use research in their careers as physicians – either by contributing to research themselves or by using the findings of others to better inform their care of patients, or both. With the rapidly changing health care environment and ever-changing discoveries, our students are prepared to take findings from the bench to the bedside.”

Learman also outlined two areas that are being explored by task forces at the school currently as opportunities, including expansion of the current interprofessionalism curriculum into health systems science as well as possible growth of the school.

Health systems science help students understand how health care is delivered beyond the role of the individual physician, including teamwork and interprofessional education, health policy, population health, value-based care, and quality improvement. “Having a good understanding of all of those interconnected facets will allow our graduates to head into the field not just as good physicians, but as physician leaders who are ready to partner with others and create positive changes in the systems in which they practice,” Learman said.

Currently, the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine has one of the smallest class sizes among all M.D.-granting medical schools with 42 students per class and total enrollment of 168. Learman compared VTCSOM's size to neighboring M.D. schools and medical schools established around the same time as VTCSOM. Among neighboring schools, total enrollments range from just under 300 to almost 900. Among schools of comparable age, the range is 200 to 500 students.

“I appreciate that the class size is a big attractor for our students,” Learman said. “I think it is possible, however, for more students can take advantage of our outstanding curriculum, while maintaining the positive impact of our small class size. With 100 times as many applicants as spots available – and with so many of those applicants meeting our qualifications – I feel we have capacity to grow in small, carefully planned steps. A task force is now exploring this possibility to ensure that if we grow, we will preserve what makes VTCSOM special.”

The growth task force has representatives from the medical school – including current students, faculty, and administrators – as well as individuals from Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic.