Northern Virginia's first medical school campus opened yesterday at Inova Fairfax Hospital as two dozen students slipped on hairnets and surgical masks and got down to work on their first day of clinical training.
The campus, a joint venture of the Inova Health System in Fairfax County and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, eventually will house 48 third- and fourth-year students training in pediatrics, neurology, psychiatry and other specialties.
For now, though, it will be the center of the academic universe for 24 third-year students who yesterday practiced scrubbing their hands for surgery and drawing blood from a patient, using a fake human arm.
"This is a big deal for this hospital and this system to have medical students here for the whole" of their clinical studies, said Russell P. Seneca, chairman of surgery for Inova and the university's associate dean for medical education. "That's a huge responsibility and an honor."
The Inova campus differs from the traditional medical school arrangement, in which students do clinical work at their home university's hospital or spend brief periods at hospitals scattered throughout the state, exploring different specialties. A few other universities across the country have programs similar to Inova's, campus officials said.
Virginia Commonwealth University decided to add a satellite campus at Inova because it offers different experiences from those available in Richmond, said Pamela Lepley, a spokeswoman for the university. Unlike Richmond, Northern Virginia is growing rapidly, with a diverse population and a very busy hospital obstetrics department.
Inova accepted the first 24 students -- from the third-year class of about 180 -- who requested to do their clinical program in Northern Virginia. Many of the students at yesterday's orientation said they chose the new campus because they were attracted to the Washington area's international community.
"There is a huge Ghanaian population here compared to Richmond," said Georgina Owusu-Asiedo, 28, who is from Ghana. "I want to be able to go home and work there."
One student said she plans to work in Honduras and wanted to study with Washington's Spanish-speaking population. Another said he is considering choosing international health as a specialty.
Inova officials said the campus brings new, young talent to the hospital, improving quality and increasing the hospital's prestige.
In addition, officials predict it will attract young doctors to the area, said Beth Visioli, spokeswoman for Inova.
"The aging of the physician population is an issue for us," she said, citing national statistics that show that more than 200,000 of the nation's active physicians in 2002 were 55 or older.
The country is experiencing a physician shortage as well, she said.
The partnership between Inova and VCU was initiated in 1999 and cemented with plans to construct a 16,000 square-foot Claude Moore Health Education Center on the grounds. Inova is still raising money for the $30 million project, which will be paid for through grants and private contributions, officials said.
Among the funding sources is a $5 million grant from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, an educational philanthropy.
Construction is expected to start within a year and be completed in summer 2007. Once built, the five-story building will house the medical school, some research facilities and perhaps a nursing education program, officials said.
Also within the building will be a simulation room, in which dummies can be programmed to complain of symptoms and react to treatments. The talking dummies also will be used to train doctors in bedside manners.