Indiana University School of Medicine’s statewide campus system ensures all medical students receive the same high-quality MD curriculum while allowing them to explore opportunities and amenities on a regional campus. In Bloomington, a big draw is the college-town vibe and culture, along with the community’s picturesque hills and lakes which afford many recreational options.
“From a social aspect and a wellness aspect, Bloomington has a lot to offer,” said Alexus Gonzalez, who is completing her second year of medical school in Bloomington and is a campus representative to Medical Student Council (MSC) and the Pediatrics Student Interest Group.
Gonzalez grew up in Miami and had never visited Indiana before her interview with IU School of Medicine. She selected Indianapolis as her first choice location, simply because it’s a big city and she thought it would be easiest to fly home from the airport there. She ended up getting her second choice: Bloomington.
“Getting accepted into the Bloomington campus was the biggest blessing in disguise,” she said.
With a small class of 37 medical students, Gonzalez quickly got to know her professors and peers.
“The Bloomington program is amazing because it’s so one-on-one. You get a lot of hands-on experience,” she said. “The professors and preceptors are amazing, and they all want us to succeed.”
She also found her peers to be supportive rather than competitive.
“It’s such a cooperative, collaborative environment,” she said. “In a high-stress environment like medical school, you need that. Everybody wants everyone else to do their best and shares resources.”
If she weren’t part of a small cohort, Gonzalez doubts she would have stepped into a leadership role.
“In Indy, I think I would’ve been overwhelmed by the size and not feel as comfortable advocating for a class where I didn’t know everyone,” Gonzalez said. “The idea of actually making a difference on a smaller campus is what pushed me to run for class rep.”
When third-year medical student Sean Buehler was ranking his preferences for medical school campuses, “it was Bloomington or bust.” Having earned his bachelor’s degree in public health from IU, Buehler was already connected in the community, volunteering with the homeless at a free medical clinic and working as an outdoor adventures and rock climbing guide.
“I’m about the biggest advocate for the regional campus experience there is,” said Buehler, who, like Gonzalez, serves as a Bloomington class representative to Medical Student Council. “In Bloomington, you have the benefit of not only smaller class sizes and better relationships with faculty, but you’re also connected with one of the most well-known and well-resourced Big Ten universities in the country.”
Clinical training in Bloomington
Buehler is among 12 medical students from his class who applied to stay in Bloomington for their third-year of medical school—the year clinical rotations begin. This has afforded him unique opportunities, particularly in his surgery rotation.
“I’ve been first-assist on over 40 surgical procedures, which is pretty unheard of as a third-year medical student,” Buehler said.
Medical students who stay in Bloomington for their third year are part of a unique clerkship program in which they are paired with clinical faculty in the community for six months instead of the usual one-month rotations.
“This allows students and preceptors to develop supportive, trusting relationships that really maximize clinical learning opportunities and mentoring,” said Sarah Tieman, MD, assistant director of clinical clerkship education. “In general, the community setting offers a more personalized educational experience of working one-on-one with a practicing physician instead of a large academic team where placements are much shorter.”
Research opportunities and scholarly concentrations
Bloomington boasts a strong research program in cell, molecular and cancer biology, rooting back to a 1987 effort to recruit faculty experts for this singular research focus, noted Bruce Martin, PhD, a professor of anatomy, cell biology and physiology who’s been teaching at IU School of Medicine for 42 years. Among those recruited was Claire Walczak, PhD, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology who joined IU School of Medicine in 1988 and has received several national recognitions for her work in cell biology and cancer research.
In her current role as assistant director of research on the Bloomington campus, Walczak oversees several programs engaging undergraduate and graduate students in collaborative research opportunities. IU School of Medicine-Bloomington hosts two PhD programs: Cell, Molecular and Cancer Biology, and Anatomy Education.
“Students have the opportunity to join dynamic research groups of graduate students, post-docs, research associates and undergraduates, with an emphasis on basic mechanisms of cancer biology,” Walczak said. “There is a strong emphasis on teaching and mentoring of students.”
Medical students on the Bloomington campus also have the opportunity to participate in scholarly concentrations to enrich their training and experience. As assistant director of medical education, Charles Rudick, PhD, helped develop these unique programs with colleagues in other schools and institutes across campus.
With the opening of the Regional Academic Health Center, possibilities for interdisciplinary studies, research and clinical training are expanding even further. The $557 million IU Health Bloomington facility will include a hospital, a cancer center and other specialty centers, and a state-of-the-art simulation center. The RAHC also will provide colocation of IU’s academic programs in medicine, nursing, social work, speech and hearing, and dentistry.
“Now we are really building the program up on the clinical side,” said Katherine Hiller, MD, MPH, associate dean and campus director of IU School of Medicine-Bloomington. “We are preparing to recruit faculty for leadership and core faculty positions. I’m working on connecting the IU Health system and the School of Medicine at the state level to do more clinical trials and research in Bloomington. And I’m very excited about collaborating with other schools, departments and programs in health sciences. The opportunities are endless.”
When asked to come up with a “tweet” about IU School of Medicine-Bloomington, Hiller enlisted help from colleagues George Dougherty, Douglas Carr, MD, and medical student Aish Thamba. Here’s why they think living and studying in Bloomington is the best:
For a large city, it feels like a small hometown. Hoosier hospitality, collegiality and a long, rich tradition of teaching meet progressive concepts and facilities. Hike the trails, meet new people, learn. BTOWN = Best Town for blooming into your best self!
Celebrating 50 years of IU’s statewide system for medical education
This story is part of a series commemorating the 50th anniversary of Indiana University School of Medicine’s statewide campus system for medical education, established by the Indiana State Legislature in 1971. The series highlights the unique history of each regional campus and celebrates its distinctive learning environment and special programs. Read more about Bloomington’s significant role in the extensive history of medical education at IU—beginning in 1871.
Behind the scenes in Bloomington
Medical students share why they love the Bloomington campus, which offers a Big 10 learning environment on an iconic campus.
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.
Laura is senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications and loves to tell the stories of outstanding students, faculty and staff at IU School of Medicine. A native Hoosier, she has over 25 years of experience in communications, having worked with newspapers and other media organizations in Indiana and Florida, along with small businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. Before joining IU School of Medicine in January 2020, she was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine serving the community of Estero, Florida.