Top Doctors 2005: Getting Schooled

In the 14 years since Susan Pfunke was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, she’s endured two major surgeries, spent countless hours in doctors’ offices, and read everything she could find about her painful intestinal disorder. But it was only when she stuck her hand inside a polyurethane colon — during Drexel University College of Medicine’s eight-week Mini-Medical School — that she really understood what was happening to her body. “I actually did to the model what the doctors do to me when I’m asleep,” says Pfunke, 55. “Now I can picture what my doctor’s talking about.”

Begun last year by colorectal surgeon David Stein, Drexel’s Mini-Med School is just what it sounds like: a quick, broad-­ranging survey of modern medicine, geared toward non-medical students. In each of eight classes, Stein or another Drexel doc reviews a different topic — from gross anatomy to emergency medicine to DNA — through a 30-minute lecture, and then with hands-on lab work, using real medical equipment and, occasionally, real body parts. After the first lecture, on anatomy, for example, Stein shows students healthy and diseased livers, lungs and kidneys taken from cadavers; for a class on biochemistry, students view their own DNA on swabs of saliva.

Stein’s first round of Mini-Med School, last fall, sold out, with 80 people paying $95 for eight weeks; his second class this spring sold out as well, with a mix of high-school students interested in science, adults who work in medical-related fields, and patients who want a better understanding of medicine. Pfunke, a pharmaceutical marketer from Warrington, found much of what she learned helpful on the job. But it was the colonoscopy class that really captivated her. After Stein’s lecture, Pfunke and her classmates each performed a virtual colonoscopy, sewed a fake intestine together, and removed polyps via a computer model — all procedures Pfunke herself has gone through. “As an informed patient, I can help my doctor help me,” says Pfunke.