Mini-Medical Schools — Long Past Due

by Alan M. Kaplan, Ph.D.
University of Kentucky, Lexington

"Can pigs be made to fly: Trials and tribulations of organ transplantation." "Blood, sweat and tears: A tale of two genetic diseases," "DNA: It's not just for scientists anymore," "Use them, lose them or take them: Trophic factors and the Brain." These are not headlines from the supermarket Enquirer or the Globe but topics from the 3rd annual University of Kentucky Mini-Medical School. Little did we realize three years ago when we started our first Mini-Medical School the positive impact that it would have on the community and the enthusiastic response it would receive. The overwhelming interest in our initial advertisements surprised even the most optimistic among us and before sessions started we had received more than 750 applications and created a substantial waiting list for the second year. Our third class is currently in session and has 350 participants.

What is Mini-Medical? Mini-Medical is the Medical Center faculty's attempt to bring to the public a series of 10 energetic presentations that have the feeling of the first two years of medical school and that familiarize the pubic with many of the exciting things happening in the medical sciences. These sessions are lively and include topical and highly publicized areas interwoven into a framework of basic sciences concepts such that the participants who complete the 10 sessions are better able to understand the science they read in the popular press.

The high level of interest encouraged us to tape the presentations for students who want additional review and for those who have missed a session. To a small extent we provide a foundation for the participants to expand their reading, listening and learning about the advances that are on the horizon in the biomedical sciences. Hopefully, we provide them with an increased interest in participating in the public dialogue that surrounds discussions concerning the role biomedical advances will play in our future.

The participating faculty have been surprisingly enthusiastic. They have thoroughly enjoyed speaking to a group of individuals who attend their lectures by choice and who enjoy the opportunity to interact with them. As a department chair it has been an unusual experience to have faculty actually compete for the opportunity to lecture. The questions from the audience are thoughtful and intelligent and reflect simultaneously the excitement and concerns that the community has with modern advances in medical sciences. While most of our participants come from the local area it is not unusual for individuals to drive more than an hour to attend evening sessions. Numerous individuals have participated more than once. Like any school, Mini-Medical School culminates in graduation and the awarding of a "Mini-Medical Diploma" for participants who have completed seven of the ten sessions. If you do not already have a mini-medical school in your area I recommend you give serious thought to starting one. I am sure that any of the existing programs would be glad to provide you with information on the logistics and samples of the materials provided to the participants. It is the kind of public service that serves both the community and the University and, I believe, gives each of us a better perspective of our responsibilities as scientists.