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New YSM Colleges Enhance Community and Mentorship

March 18, 2024
by Abigail Roth

In January, Yale School of Medicine’s (YSM) six new colleges held inaugural dinners in Café Med, with MD and MD-PhD students, residents, fellows, faculty, and alumni gathering for socializing and networking. The colleges launched in August 2023, an important initiative from the YSM Strategic Plan for Medical Education.

Associate Professor of Therapeutic Radiology Henry S. Park, MD ’12, MPH, an academic advisor and head of Purple College (currently the colleges are named Blue, Gold, Green, Orange, Purple, and Red), says the colleges are “a fantastic way” for students to connect with each other across classes and among faculty, house staff, alumni, and community members.” Previously, he says, “it was often difficult for senior medical students to pass on wisdom to junior medical students if they were more than one year apart from each other,” noting that, “forging these connections with each other will help with establishing short-term and long-term mentorship relationships among students and physicians in different phases of their careers.”

MD and MD-PhD students become members of a college based on their current academic advisory group, with each advisor also serving as the head of the college. MD-PhD students remain part of their college during their research years, and Physician Associate Program students all will be affiliated with the colleges. Each college has a student college representative, who serves as a student liaison with the college head, helps coordinate social activities, and, in this inaugural year, contributes to the formation of college traditions and activities.

Mentoring ecosystem

Each college also has several longitudinal coaches and numerous affiliates, adding to its mentoring ecosystem. An open solicitation resulted in 365 faculty, residents, fellows, and alumni volunteering to be affiliates, including 98 alumni who do not work at Yale. The colleges also will have community affiliates, enhancing connections with the New Haven community.

Like Park, Associate Professor of Medicine (General Medicine) Susan Kashaf, MD, MPH, an academic advisor and head of Gold College, says that importantly, the colleges will increase the sense of community among people at different stages of education and their careers. Medical school can be very siloed, she explains, with students mostly engaging with their classmates. Kashaf lauds the inaugural dinners, which “brought together people of different ages, specialties, and phenotypes,” broadening the group that students could learn from and connect with. “It was so wonderful to see the enthusiasm as guests were introducing themselves and asking some really fantastic questions demonstrating their curiosity and support of our newly established colleges,” says Kashaf. She adds that affiliates shared personal stories and advice on topics like work-life balance, and one affiliate even flew in from Missouri, handing his business card to students and encouraging them to reach out to him.

Park similarly describes the positive impacts the colleges already are having. “First- and second-year students have been thrilled to meet more senior students who have completed clerkships, sub-internships, research, and dual-degree years, as well as residency interviews. Students in all classes have connected with physicians whom they met at a college dinner to discover beneficial shadowing, research, and mentorship opportunities.” Park notes they are working to ensure that each college has at least one representative from every specialty—and eventually every subspecialty—in medicine.

Park adds, “I expect the development of the college system to make my job as an academic advisor much more fruitful and fun, especially given how much of our roles is based in promoting personal and professional development.”

Associate Professor of Pediatrics (General Pediatrics) and Longitudinal Coach Ada Fenick, MD, notes that the colleges ensure that coaches are working with students who all have the same advisor, allowing for easier collaboration, and enable coaches to meet with students socially. “Both of these,” Fenick says, “are net positives.”

College affiliates

Dermatology resident and Green College affiliate Amanda Zhou, MD ’22, says she “benefited greatly from the YSM ecosystem as a medical student,” and is “very grateful to have had so many mentors who helped guide me to where I am today.” When the college affiliate outreach took place, she “was very excited about this opportunity to be able to do the same for a younger generation of students.” Zhou says she, “was also drawn by the opportunity to be part of something new that will become a part of YSM history. This is a groundbreaking and exciting change for the medical school, and I am excited to see how the college system will positively shape students’ experiences moving forward!”

Purple College affiliate Peter Herbert, MD, volunteered to be an affiliate “simply because I have such a long and extensive experience with both the School of Medicine, our residencies, and the environment of our hospital.” Herbert shares, “I never had a mentor during my medical school years, and must confess that I made a number of poor judgments that could’ve been avoided if I was close to someone who understood the life and challenges of our environment, particularly during the clerkship years.”

Student representatives

First-year MD student and Red College student representative Ashwin Chetty says that as an undergraduate at Yale, he “experienced first-hand how the college system was a great tool to build community and facilitate mentorship” and, therefore, he “was excited by the prospect of getting to be a part of implementing a similar but unique system in the medical school.” He adds, “I know the college system has the potential to bring another dimension to the YSM student experience.”

Blue College student representative Anita Jegarl, who expects to graduate in 2025 with an MD-MHS, explains, “I wanted to become a college representative to help amplify YSM school spirit, especially for upperclassmen whose medical education began during the pandemic.” Jegarl adds, “Often times, students only interact with their entering class, with these interactions decreasing as they progress through medical school. I'm hoping that the college system helps students maintain a sense of community even while pursuing their own individualized education through the Yale System model.”

One entertaining endeavor is on the horizon—the College Cup. As Jegarl describes, “We are planning a fun afternoon of activities that we hope will allow students to feel a sense of community through some friendly competition. There is a trophy for the winning college! We're hoping to make this College Cup an annual tradition.”

Submitted by Abigail Roth on March 15, 2024