During the early faculty years I held a joint appointment with the School of Pharmacy and the Department of Pharmacology of the School of Medicine. At that time, my major teaching responsibility was to undergraduate pharmacy students who took a year-long series of courses in pharmacology.
In 1980, after changes in the Deanship of the School of Pharmacy and Chairmanship of the Department of Pharmacology, my appointment became full time in the Department of Pharmacology.
In 1979, I became the course chairman of one of two newly-created and required courses for second year medical students, Human Biology (HuBio) 543 (Principles of Pharmacology, I). Over the years, the course has evolved in coverage of topics and has employed a variety of technological innovations. I continued to serve as the course chairman for HuBio 543 until my retirement in 2010. I still participate in the course as part of my 40% retirement employment.
Study of the effects of drugs on the autonomic and cardiovascular systems has always seemed to medical students like an 'indigestible bolus'. To facilitate learning in this area, the Web Site for Cardiovascular and Autonomic Pharmacology was created. The site includes a so-called ‘Virtual Dog Lab’. This part of the web site was in an attempt to simulate some of the experience of the traditional dog lab that nearly all medical students had engaged in as part of their training. The dog lab was major learning experience for medical students. It provided students with hands-on injection and observation of the effects of drugs on a living body. For a variety of reasons the dog lab has all but disappeared from modern medical education in the United States. It is hoped that some of the important lessons of the traditional dog lab have been made available in the Virtual Dog Lab.
In addition to HuBio 543 and various courses taught by the Department of Pharmacology, I chair and teach in UCONJ 531 (Mind Body Medicine: An Experiential Elective). While it may seem unusual that a basic scientist would be involved in such a 'touchy-feely' course, interest in this area was a natural outgrowth of my lectures on the placebo effect. The fact that the placebo effect is so powerful stimulates intellectual curiosity about how this works. And the fact that is does work challenges drug companies to prove that their 'real drug' works better than a 'dummy medication' in properly controlled, randomized clinical trial.
UCONJ 531 was originally created by Department of Family Medicine and by the School of Nursing. It is an elective course currently available to second year medical students and to graduate nursing students. Students in the course meet in groups of up to ten on a weekly basis. They are guided by faculty members through a various techniques for stress reduction, self-awareness, mindfulness, group sharing and introspection.
Stress is a major feature of the illnesses that patients present with in some 70-80% of primary care visits. It is also a major contributor to illness and burnout of health care providers. UCONJ 531 gives health care provider students with experience and skills to deal with stress. The course also increases awareness of stress as a major component of patient illnesses.
The course was taught for the first time in Autumn 2004. Based on student ratings and surveys, the course was not only immensely popular, but effective in reducing student anxiety, as demonstrated by my colleagues (Finkelstein et al., 2007)
My current scholarly research interest is aimed at increased understanding of how stress and anxiety reduction techniques work and how we can maximize the benefit to students (and faculty) who participate. Most importantly, I want to know how we can nurture the empathy of health care providers as well as their awareness of stress as a major contributor to most chronic illnesses.