IU School of Medicine-Evansville students discover close-knit health care community in thriving region
Laura Gates Jul 16, 2021
Of Indiana University School of Medicine’s nine campuses statewide, Evansville was the farthest from Ellen Yos’ home in the Chicagoland area, yet she ranked it first on her list for campus placement.
“The Evansville campus has a brand new facility, the Stone Center, with state-of-the-art equipment and a mock clinic, where you can practice patient encounters and start getting into the mindset of a physician,” she said, adding, “The weather is much better here than in the rest of Indiana, in my opinion, which makes a difference when you're trying to get to class or the hospital in the dead of winter.”
While milder winters and top technology were initial draws, it’s what Yos discovered after arriving at IU School of Medicine-Evansville that made her want to stay for all four year of medical school.
“The students, staff and faculty are very close-knit, and making friends is extremely easy,” Yos said. “Everyone looks out for each other and is very supportive.”
Evansville is Indiana’s third-largest city, located along the Ohio River in the tri-state area within easy driving distance to several major cities: Indianapolis, St. Louis, Louisville and Nashville.
“Evansville is the classic Goldilocks size—not too big, not to small,” said Aaron Costlow, MD, a resident in the Southwest Indiana Internal Medicine Residency program and a 2021 IU School of Medicine graduate. “There’s a lot to do, a good food scene and even a great music scene.”
The Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra is the largest arts institution in the tri-state, and Evansville hosts one of the nation’s largest street festivals. For years, the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival has brought Evansville to life for one week each October.
Now the Stone Family Center for Health Sciences is springing this southern Indiana city to life year-round. Since its opening in 2018, the Stone Center has sparked revitalization including dozens of new restaurants, new apartment complexes and two new hotels within walking distance of the center, which houses not only IU School of Medicine-Evansville but also graduate programs of the University of Evansville and the University of Southern Indiana including nursing, occupational therapy, physician assistant and physical therapy.
“The community has embraced the medical school moving downtown, and numerous new apartments, restaurants and entertainment spots have arisen in the last four years,” said Taylor Deist, who is entering her final year of medical school on the Evansville campus. “The downtown YMCA is walking distance from school and is almost brand new, offering a facility that has a great weightlifting area, track, sports leagues, swimming and a ton of exercise classes.”
Interdisciplinary teams work on ‘real-world’ projects at Stone Center
So much has changed in the short time since Jacob Weinzapfel, MD, began at IU School of Medicine in his hometown of Evansville in 2016. He didn’t get to spend much time at the Stone Center, which opened during his third year of medical school—and he’s a bit envious.
“I was very jealous of the Stone Center when I first toured it,” said Weinzapfel, who is part of the first cohort of the Southwest Indiana Internal Medicine Residency. “The anatomy lab is beautiful.”
The center also has numerous nooks for studying.
“The Stone Center really became my second home during my first two years of medical school,” said Jered Schenk, now entering his fourth year in Evansville. “I spent countless hours studying there each day because of the quiet, relaxing atmosphere and supportive staff and classmates that were always nearby. Also, the Stone Center has free coffee for medical students, which is a huge bonus!”
There’s also a monthly coffee hour with a featured speaker for students from all health sciences programs at the Stone Center.
“This is an opportunity to think of health care as a broader field than just the School of Medicine,” said Kara Garcia, PhD, ME, who oversees clinical research projects involving multiple health professions programs at the Stone Center. “For people interested in practicing in a more inter-professional model, we have nice opportunities for students to help them understand what these other professions do.”
Garcia is Evansville’s navigator for the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI), creating opportunities for Southwest Indiana residents to participate in statewide clinical research trials.
“Hopefully, we’ll be the first of several major hubs for clinical research outside of Indianapolis,” said Steven Becker, MD, associate dean and director of IU School of Medicine-Evansville. “The model we have here in Evansville can be replicated so patients all over the state can be enrolled in trials.”
Garcia also directs IU School of Medicine-Evansville’s scholarly concentration program: Quality and Innovation in Health Care.
“Our focus is on real-world projects that can improve the health care system,” Garcia explained.
That involves using process improvement techniques from the business world like Lean Six Sigma.
“The scholarly concentration program was presented to students as a way to not only get research experience, but also as a unique opportunity to be certified in quality improvement,” Deist said.
She worked with the Vanderburgh County Health Department to help improve human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates for middle school students.
“Health care is constantly evolving and demands innovation in our workflow to create efficiency, enhance patient safety and deliver the best quality of care to our patients,” Deist said. “Now that I have experience in quality improvement, I will be able to translate what I have learned to the clinical environment.”
Tight-knit community offers supportive place to explore medical specialties
For Deist and many other medical students, Evansville has been the ideal place to learn.
“I could tell someone a unique detail about most of my classmates, which I think is a testament to the tight-knit nature of Evansville's campus,” she said. “I think this puts you in a great place to take care of your mental, emotional and physical health while also being successful in your studies.”
Evansville boasts a huge number of local physicians—more than 760—who volunteer their time to train medical students and expose them to various specialties during clinical rotations.
“My clinical experiences in Evansville have been fantastic,” said fourth-year medical student Jamie Durbin. “On my surgical rotation, I was able to scrub into every surgery that my preceptor performed, and I had ample opportunity to perform procedures such as suturing and catheterization. Every single rotation was one-on-one with the preceptor, which made it very easy to ask for feedback and obtain letters of recommendation. Evansville has so many doctors from multiple specialties who are fantastic teachers.”
Durbin is part of what Becker calls his “fab five”—five medical students he has known since their senior year of high school, when he interviewed them for the Baccalaureate to Doctor of Medicine (B/MD) program, which provides an undergraduate scholarship to the University of Evansville and provisional admission to IU School of Medicine-Evansville.
Hannah Clark was also among this cohort, which was the first to do the B/MD program, subsequently joining the first class at IU School of Medicine-Evansville to start their program at the Stone Center.
“You really get to plan your schedule exactly how you want in Evansville,” said Clark, who did all but one of her third-year rotations in Evansville. “I thought it was a no-brainer to stay in Evansville for third year. I got to stay with my friends. You’re one-on-one with the attendings, so it’s great experience and you build relationships. And you get to see what it’s like working in a community.”
When Weinzapfel was in medical school, he did not have much opportunity to work with residents as part of a hospital team; now this is changing. New residency programs in psychiatry, internal medicine and family medicine have added 87 positions, making about 120 total residencies, and Becker expects that number to double in the next five-to-eight years.
“Now it’s the best of both worlds,” said Weinzapfel, who enjoys mentoring medical students as a first-year resident. “Medical students get to work with residents in these new programs, and they can still be hands-on with attendings, too.”
With constant innovation and improvements happening on the Evansville campus, medical students there can’t say enough about the value they feel they’re receiving in this supportive community. Many will stay in Evansville for residency training, making them more likely to put down roots and practice medicine in Southwest Indiana.
“I think everyone is really excited about medical school and graduate medical education in Evansville. It’s important to have a leader who has a vision like Dr. Becker does and who cares a lot about his students,” said Costlow, who is specializing in anesthesia and wants to continue working in the health care community in Evansville, staying connected to IU School of Medicine-Evansville. “I would love to do some teaching of medical students in the future.
“I loved being a part of a small class. Everyone was really close, and we are still all in group messages together. I’m trying to talk everyone into coming back to Evansville to practice!”
About this series:
Indiana University School of Medicine is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its statewide system for medical education, established by the Indiana State Legislature in 1971. This series highlights the unique history of each regional campus and celebrates its distinctive learning environment and special programs.
Learn more about Evansville’s innovative health care community and Becker’s vision for IU School of Medicine-Evansville.
"There's more to Evansville than meets the eye."
The close knit community and the new Stone Family Center for Health Sciences, a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to collaborative and innovative medical education and clinical research, make the Evansville campus unique.