Life Chiropractic College West is two quarters into a new curriculum program that works to give students clinical experience earlier, as well as change the flow of their academic experience to coincide with the clinical experience. Life West’s academic leadership is hoping the changes will balance the load of requirements from both the classroom and the clinic throughout the learning process.
The Clinically Inspired Learning Program, which aims to create a bridge between clinical learning and academics, began with students who enrolled in Fall 2018.
“Research shows that when student learning is coupled with hands-on experience, reflective analysis and real-time exposure, it becomes more tangible and concrete,” said Dr. Pardeep Kullar, Vice President of the Office of Academic Affairs. She is working to change the way Life West students earn their chiropractic degree, alongside Dr. Scott Donaldson, Vice President of Clinic Operations; Dr. Tamara MacIntyre, Dean of Clinical Education; Dr. Ramneek Bhogal, Chair of Technique; Dr. Ankur Tayal, Chair of Philosophy; Dr. Monique Andrews, Chair of Basic Sciences; Dr. Mary Lucus-Flannery, Dean of Enrollment; and Dr. Mark Zeigler, Vice President of Institutional Advancement.
Right now, Dr. Donaldson said, many students experience their education in two phases: academic courses, then clinical experience. It can feel like two separate programs. “The students experience clinic as starting school over,” he said. “They shouldn’t feel so much stress and anxiety. It’s one program, and the clinical portion is the application of what they had been learning in the classroom.”
The new program looks to meld the two together, Dr. Kullar said, so that students are getting relevant clinical experience on a topic they have just studied in the academic courses. In addition to pairing academic technique with clinical technique, for example, the program also looks at changing the timing in which the academic courses are delivered. As students begin to practice in the clinic, the academic pressures should ease off. By the time students are in their final quarters, the academic load should be lower, and the clinic experience increases proportionately.
This really makes clear for students how what they’re learning in the first year or two applies to clinical experience and to being a chiropractor, Dr. Donaldson said.
Dr. Kullar said she expects this clinically inspired approach to help solidify student knowledge earlier, help with their understanding of what they’re learning and push them to make connections at a deeper level. “More specifically, this focuses their learning with their own accountability to help them achieve the outcome they’re trying to reach,” she said.
Early in the curriculum, students will be exposed to adjustments through observation and conduct assignments that help them internalize their experiences through a learning lens, Dr. Kullar said. Gradually, more hands-on clinical experiences will be added into the learning, so that by the fifth quarter, each student will have dedicated time in the clinic. This real-time learning earlier in the student experience is expected to help build stronger connections between what happens in the classroom and what happens in the clinic.
“We really want them to understand early how they’re studying for the next clinical experiences that Dr. Kullar is talking about, “ Dr. Donaldson said. “The literature is pretty clear – if we make the things they are learning relevant to the clinical application and the practice of chiropractic, their learning will deepen.”
But this clinically inspired learning goes beyond making lessons relevant. Dr. Kullar and Dr. Donaldson also intend to instill more confidence in students, helping them transition from student to chiropractor more smoothly after graduation.
“We want them to be competent and confident at the same time, and this plan is designed to help develop that confidence as well,” Dr. Donaldson said. “When they leave this program, they can go forward with confidence in what they’re doing. I think that’s really important, especially in this generation of students that we’re training. We’re kind of at the front edge of that with this program.”
Students will also have greater opportunities to participate in preceptorships, where they’ll get an expanded clinical experience as they join a real practice in their last quarter of school.
“Confidence comes from hands-on experience. It comes from the delivery of chiropractic care and successfully doing so multiple times, over as much time as you can give them,” Dr. Donaldson said. “We want them to graduate feeling more confident and ready to go start a practice.”
Dr. Kullar said about 70 students have enrolled in the program. In surveys and other feedback, they describe the experience so far as positive. Life West expects to be able to integrate other students into the program because of the way it is structured, so that students in their 8th quarter or 10th quarter can still benefit from the clinically inspired curriculum.