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The Alpert Medical School welcomed its largest class ever this year ­­- totalling 120 students - following the opening of the school's downtown facility last fall. With the building constructed in downtown Providence's Knowledge District able to accommodate more students, the school matriculated 11 additional students in this year's class, up from 109 in the class of 2015. The school has expanded from 310 students in 2001 to 421 students this year, according to Ed Wing, dean of medicine and biological sciences.
The admittance of the Med School's  largest-ever class was made possible by the new facility, Wing said. Admitting classes of 120 will expand the school to 480 students in the next few years, he said.
"It's a terrific building," Wing said, adding that the school's old space in the BioMedical Center did not allow for expansion. "Everything in the (new) building has allowed us to provide better education."
The Med School also witnessed a surge in applications for spots in the class of 2016, with a roughly 20 percent increase from 2,825 applicants in 2011 to 3,344 applications in 2012, according to Philip Gruppuso, associate dean of medical education and professor of pediatrics.
"There is in general a physician shortage in the United States," Gruppuso said. He noted that the Association of American Medical Colleges has called for a substantial increase in the country's supply of doctors and that the University is hoping to aid this goal. Gruppuso said the Med School's expansion was part of a long-term process that occurred after administrators received permission from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the national accrediting organization for medical degree programs.
Wing said administrators have "nothing definite" planned to expand the student body any further than 480 students.
The Med School hired more staff to accommodate the larger building, but they did not need to hire more faculty members, Wing said, adding that the school boasts a total of 2,000 faculty members, including 600 full-time clinical faculty. The Med School revamped its curriculum but did not add additional classes or expand the size of courses.
Gruppuso said the University is still considered a small medical school according to national rankings of medical degree programs by size.
"We had space and resources and faculty to be able to meet the needs of this number of students," he said. "We were very confident this (expansion) was not going to result in any kind of erosion of the quality of the medical program."
As part of its expansion, the Med School introduced a new academy model of advising and training last year, with each class divided into three academies of around 40 students in order to facilitate greater advising services and a better sense of community. Each academy space provides locker and study space, designated advisers and other training services to students to help break down the student body into smaller sections.
"It allows us to accommodate a large number of students without having a single population of students with regard to advising and infrastructure," Gruppuso said. "We're not at all feeling overcrowded."
Faculty members expressed support for the new academy model, saying the system preserved quality instruction and counseling for students.
"I think the entire process is very deliberate and very well planned out over several years," said Julie Taylor, director of clinical curriculum and an associate professor of family medicine. She added that academies were an effective strategy for providing individualized advising and training services for first-years in the midst of the Med School's expansion. "We've been able to address some of the potential risks of greater class size, like anonymity," Taylor said.
The Med School's expansion has allowed for larger lecture sizes while not disrupting the faculty's ability to keep small instruction groups, said Luba Dumenco, director of the pre-clinical curriculum and a lecturer in pathology and laboratory medicine.
"We've always had between eight and 10 students in a small group, and we've maintained that," Dumenco said, adding that more faculty members have agreed to teach small instruction groups this year to ensure the small size of those groups remains constant.
First-year medical students said they felt the school's new facilities, revamped curriculum and advising services met their needs and that they had ready access to resources.
"Only being here for five weeks, I've been really impressed with all the resources here," said Adam Driesman MD'16, adding that he believed the Med School's relocation helped  attract better students.
"What was really holding Brown's Med School back before was the quality of facilities," he said.
 According to Driesman, the academy model has allowed him to get to know classmates more "in-depth," including older medical students who can provide advice on courses and careers. "It really provides a home in the Med School that you can always turn to," he said.
Caitlin Naureckas MD'16 said despite her class' unprecedented size, she did not notice any shortage of available time for talking with professors.
"I'm not concerned at all about the size of the class," she said. "They have all the resources we could ever imagine needing as medical students."
Anna Costello MD'16 echoed Naureckas' feelings toward the expanded class size, saying students have received the same amount of instruction even though there are more students. She also expressed support for the academy model, comparing the process of dividing the students into the three academies to the sorting ceremony of Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter book series.
Med School administrators and faculty members completed a self-study of the quality of the school's curriculum, facilities and services as part of a reaccreditation process in conjunction with the LCME, which last accredited the school in 2004. The school's expansion likely facilitated a simpler accreditation process this cycle, Gruppuso said, as administrators were able to showcase the relocation from "inadequate" older facilities.


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