The new medical science building in Bloomington balances flexibility, practicality and community for medical students and those from other health professions.

A Little Elbow Room

The new medical science building in Bloomington balances flexibility, practicality and community for medical students and those from other health professions.
Students sit in front of the new medical science building in Bloomington.

Bloomington's medical science building, which sits next to the new IU Health hospital along the Indiana 45/46 Bypass, underwent a soft opening this spring. Still, when pandemic restrictions ease, students will make full use of its top-flight lab spaces and feel at home with amenities like kitchens, dining spaces, and even access to an inspiration garden.

IU School of Medicine—Bloomington, nestled mostly on the third floor of a sleek new medical sciences building on the eastern edge of the IU Bloomington campus—has flexible classrooms that can be contracted, expanded and reconfigured to fit a variety of needs.

Its roomy anatomy lab, with surgery-grade lights and enhanced ventilation, is a noticeable upgrade from previous spaces. The lab is also on the third floor, closer to classrooms and faculty offices.

To help students feel at home during long hours of study, the building has kitchens, dining spaces and comfy communal lounge areas with big screen TVs. There’s even easy access to a rock-and-tree landscaped inspiration garden.

But since the space opened in December, there’s been one main ingredient missing: medical students.

Pandemic-related restrictions on indoor occupancy have made for the softest of openings for a $45 million building that promises to be, along with the adjacent new IU Health hospital, a landmark in medical education in Bloomington and a promising milestone for health care in the area.

Students began to trickle in for tours—and a quiet place to study—after the holidays. A few small group sessions were permitted in April. But lectures, so far, have remained online.

That will change in the months ahead, as the restrictions ease and the place starts to find its natural pulse. “We can’t wait to have students fully engaged in this space,” said Katherine Hiller, MD, associate dean and director of IU School of Medicine—Bloomington.

Situated along the Indiana 45/46 Bypass near the Pfau Course, the academic building will be home not just to medical students but also students pursuing three other disciplines: nursing, social work, and speech, hearing and language sciences.

And—along with the hospital—it will be an integral component of what’s been dubbed the Regional Academic Health Center.

Hiller says the proximity to the other allied health fields will help medical students learn early in their development how to interact with and benefit from the knowledge of other professionals. The adjacency to the hospital (the two buildings will be connected through the hospital cafeteria) will also figure into that.

“We’ll not only be able to collaborate much better with nursing, social work, speech and hearing because they are right here, but also with all of the disciplines that occupy the IU Health hospital—people like pharmacy, physical therapy, occupational therapy,” Hiller said.

That interaction is appealing to Aish Thamba, who is finishing up her first year as a medical student in Bloomington. She’s excited, too, that the proximity to the hospital will enable third- and fourth-year students to be more clinically focused.

“There will be older medical students and nursing students and we can learn from them how to think about things,” Thamba said. “Just having that kind of camaraderie across health professions, regardless of what our degrees are, is very crucial to having a holistic health care team that comes together and works for the patient.”

Thamba’s early impressions of the new building are positive. Ample study spaces make it easy to spread out. The anatomy lab is brighter and has two designated locker rooms. The lounges and kitchen space will make good places to hover between classes.

“I think it’s a well-designed space where we can spread out but at the same time see each other, and hang out with each other,” Thamba said.

Hiller hopes the new building will be a springboard for both the School of Medicine and health care in Bloomington. Consideration is underway for new residency programs in internal medicine and emergency medicine that could create spots for 45 additional trainees. Down the road, Hiller hopes to expand medical student enrollment, which today stands at 90.

For now, the Bloomington campus still needs some breaking in. Pieces from the IU art collection will help. So will input from students on filling empty white walls in the lounge areas. But Hiller says the natural light that floods the building gives it an airy feel. It just needs students to fill it.

Thamba admits to some nostalgia about leaving the old Medical Sciences space, even though it was cramped and a busy thoroughfare for students from across the campus. It’s where she spent most of her time as an undergraduate. But Thamba signed on to give tours of the new building and she now sees the possibilities of being surrounded by other medical and allied health students.

“It’s our own space,” she said, “where we just finally have a home.”

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Bobby King

Bobby King is the director of development and alumni communications in the Office of Gift Development. Before joining the IU School of Medicine in 2018, Bobby was a reporter with The Indianapolis Star. Before that he was a reporter for newspapers in Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.