Alex Franke, a Washington State University medical student from Seattle, tries “gowning and gloving“ for the first time.

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Alex Franke has donned surgical gloves in the past. But the Washington State University medical student had never gone step-by-step through the process of gowning and gloving for a sterile operating room.

On a Monday in March, Franke and 13 of his peers learned the meticulous process required for scrubbing into surgery and maintaining a sterile environment from the staff at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.

“It’s mind-boggling how much goes into it,” says Franke, a 23-year-old Seattle resident.

The experience was new for fellow medical student Megan Short, too.

“I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know,” says Short, who graduated from Skyview High School in Vancouver in 2008.

Short and Franke are part of the first class of medical students at WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. The 60 students spend the vast majority of their first two years in the classroom in Spokane, before finishing the program with two years of clinical work in four Washington communities: Vancouver, Everett, the Tri-Cities and Spokane.

During each of the first two years, the students — split into four cohorts of about 15 students — have three one-week visits to their communities. The first day of those stays includes some time in the classroom, as well as a workshop. This time around, Legacy hosted the 14 students for a workshop on surgical gowning and gloving and an introduction to suturing.

Dr. Richard Green, a plastic surgeon at Salmon Creek Plastic Surgery, led the students through the suturing portion of the workshop, demonstrating how to hold instruments and perform a simple interrupted suture.
The students then practiced the suture using surgical tubing.

“This is actually really cool,” says Short, 27. “This is the first procedural-type thing we’re learning.”

During their weeklong visit, the medical students spent three days in hospitals and clinics throughout Southwest Washington, shadowing physicians and learning about the local medical community.

The goal is to expose students to a wide variety of practices and specialties early in their education, says Dr. Kevin Murray, WSU associate dean for clinical education in Vancouver.

That’s a different philosophy than medical schools of the past, Green says.

“We didn’t have any clinical experience until the end of our second year,” he says. “The closest we got was working on dead people, the cadavers.

“In a way, it’s getting back to the apprenticeship model of medicine,” Green adds.

That’s all intentional, Murray says. In addition to exposing students to different specialties, they hope students build relationships with local physicians, hospitals and clinics and return to the communities once they complete medical school, he says.

“We’re going to train Washington kids to practice in Washington,” Murray says.

Christie Kirkpatrick, who graduated from Longview’s Mark Morris High School in 2012, never expected she’d have the opportunity to learn and train in the area where she grew up.

“It’s amazing,” says Kirkpatrick. “I get to learn in the place I love.”

Kirkpatrick, 24, is certain she’ll return to the Vancouver area once she graduates. Her father, Richard Kirkpatrick, is an internal medicine physician with a private practice in Longview.

“He’s encouraged me to love the people in this area,” she says. “And that’s what I want to do.“