By Wendy Sarubbi | March 14, 2016 2:35 pm

It’s one thing to memorize parts of the brain and what can go wrong with the body’s chief information distributor. It’s quite another to get a clinical case – like a clot in a cerebral artery, hold a catheter probe in your hands and decide how to treat the blockage.

Hands-on learning is a key part of the College of Medicine’s curriculum, and on March 9, second-year students had the chance to practice their judgment and their brain surgery skills in the final days of the Brain and Behavior module led by Dr. Michael Bellew.

Representatives from Codman Neurovascular, a national manufacturer of medical devices, came to the college’s Anatomy Lab with angiogram simulators that allow students to practice using the equipment that Dr. Bellew, a neurosurgeon, uses routinely in his clinical practice.

The M.D. students were given various patient histories — such as a heat stroke patient suffering from a blocked cranial artery – and had to determine how and where to use the catheter to clear the blockage.

“The hardest thing to teach in medical school is critical thinking skills and clinical reasoning,” explained Dr. Richard Peppler, associate dean of faculty and academic affairs, who leads the M.D. curriculum. “It’s one thing to know the parts of the brain. It’s another thing to apply what you know to a patient, to use critical thinking and reasoning when a patient comes in with a problem and you have to make a determination of what to do.”

UCF’s class is Codman Neurovascular’s largest simulation event and medical schools at UCLA and Duke have asked the company and the College of Medicine to share with them their hands-on curriculum.

The Brain and Behavior Module is the last before second-year students leave the classroom, take the Step 1 exam and begin their third-year core clinical rotations that start in May. As part of the send-off, Dr. Bellew organized a “Brain Bowl,” where student teams competed to see which had the most cranial knowledge. Following the competition, Dr. Bellew treated students, module faculty and staff to a lunch he had catered by 4 Rivers Smokehouse.

Even after the food was gone, students surrounded the physician asking follow-up questions. A few took selfies with their teacher. As they gathered after lunch, Drs. Peppler and Bellew reminisced about first speaking in 2007-2008, before the first students came to UCF’s young medical school. Dr. Bellew was practicing in Indiana and wanted to move to Orlando. But he first wanted to be sure he could become a faculty member at the new College of Medicine. Both talked of today’s M.D. students and their desire to engage in what they’re learning, to have experiences that train them beyond lectures and memorization.

“Active learning like the simulators give students a chance to become familiar with the clinical applications of what they’re learning,” Dr. Bellew said. “They were very engaged with this small group experience.”

Team 5 won the Brain Bowl competition and the names of its members — Reem Abdalla, Jeffrey Fleming, William Fravel, Robert Lisac, Courtney Mascoe, Wei Niu and Katelyn Updyke — will be engraved on the College of Medicine’s “Cerebral Cortex Cup.”

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