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50 years of improving medical education in Northwest Indiana

Dunes Medical Building

Dunes Medical Building, Gary campus

IU School of Medicine-Northwest-Gary offers individualized learning with faculty and physicians who love to teach

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.

Here, we take a look at the history of medical training in Northwest Indiana and explore the current vision for IU School of Medicine-Northwest-Gary, which is located on the campus of Indiana University Northwest (IUN).

“Opportunities to make a difference in the health and wellness of Hoosiers are everywhere,” said Elizabeth Ryan, EdD, associate dean at IU School of Medicine and director of the Northwest-Gary campus. “Our medical students are collaborating with our community partners to improve conditions for marginalized groups in this region.”


The humble beginning: East Chicago, 1972

You might say this regional medical school was without a home for much of its upbringing. In 1972, the Northwest Center for Medical Education opened with just four students and four faculty members in East Chicago, Indiana, in an IU-owned facility that previously housed the university’s extension services in the region.

In 1975, the medical education program moved to the IU Gary Center. However, it remained without a permanent home, residing in glorified construction trailers on the IUN campus for three decades.

IUSM Northwest-Gary013What the Northwest campus lacked in its physical facilities, it made up through highly motivated educators, individualized attention for students, innovative curriculum and countless opportunities for research and clinical experiences in the region, said Patrick Bankston, PhD, who was hired in 1978 as the medical center’s seventh faculty member in Gary. He served as IU School of Medicine’s associate dean in Northwest Indiana from 2006-2018.

Credit goes to his predecessor, William Baldwin, PhD, for working with state government and university leaders to obtain funding and plan the construction of a state-of-the-art teaching and research facility. Finally, the medical center had a permanent home.

Opened in 2004 and renovated in 2013, the Dunes Medical and Professional Building brings together the medical school and other health sciences professions including programs in nursing, dental education and radiological sciences, along with the School of Business and Economics.


Northwest Indiana blends big city amenities with small town feel

In 2011, IU School of Medicine-Northwest-Gary graduated its first class of students to stay on the regional campus for all four years of medical school. Today many students choose to complete their clinical rotations and medical electives in this diverse region.

“As a major urban center in Indiana near Chicago, the Northwest region has a huge variety of people, disease entities, health delivery problems, physician specialists who love to teach, and health care institutions that offer students a wide array of opportunities for learning,” Bankston said. “There is nothing in health care that cannot be learned by experiences offered at the Northwest campus.”

David DimitroffDavid Dimitroff, MD, is proof of that. The Valparaiso, Indiana, pediatrician is a 2017 IU School of Medicine graduate who studied all four years on the Gary campus. He now volunteers as a preceptor for third-year students doing their pediatrics rotation.

When he matched at UCLA for residency, Dimitroff recalls being both excited and intimidated.

“I was so afraid I could be potentially deficient among so many high-achieving medical school graduates from all over the country. But I will tell you, I was very well prepared by my experiences at IU School of Medicine on the Northwest regional campus,” he said. “Those deeper relationships I was able to develop with preceptors really helped me along the way. The faculty are very accessible and approachable; they want your success. It’s very palpable.”

Although he appreciates his experiences in Los Angeles, Dimitroff returned to practice medicine in Northwest Indiana, seeing patients at the same pediatrics office where he was once a patient. Now he’s also helping train regional medical students.

“I thought he might never come back, but he had a desire to return to his community, and now he is our preceptor for pediatrics. It’s come full circle,” said Amy Han, PhD, director of clinical education for the Northwest-Gary campus.


Collaborative efforts to improve health care in Northwest Indiana

Han co-directs the Urban Medicine and Health Care Disparities Scholarly Concentration program with Ryan. This elective enrichment program offers medical students the opportunity to dig into the social determinants of health which affect access and quality of health care in the region.

“We’re trying to grow pillars within the concentration, for example, on violence or food insecurity. We have a team of students working together on this, so the junior members can take over responsibilities when the seniors leave,” Ryan explained. “Research is done in teams; it’s not done in isolation. That’s our goal with our concentration—peer mentoring.”

Students on the Northwest campus have many opportunities for community engagement. One ongoing effort is Project Outreach and Prevention (POP) on Youth Violence, founded by adjunct faculty members Michael McGee, MD, and Reuben Rutland, MD.

“That has become a longitudinal project for us where students will hand it off to the next cohort of students,” Han said. “It’s nice for our medical students because they are the role models working with inner-city Black youths. We’re now in our third cohort.”

Another longitudinal project examines COVID-19 incidence and outcomes in medically underserved populations.

2021 graduate Marlee Crews said she appreciated learning in a region with diverse patient populations.

“In terms of studying medicine, Gary is an underserved community, and then there are surrounding areas that are more well served with access to medical care. It’s really quite stark to see some of the disparities, and as a learner, I think that is an important way to be educated,” Crews said.


Curriculum innovation and advancements

Panayotis Iatridis, MD, PhD, the Northwest medical center’s founding director, is credited with growing faculty expertise and pioneering a highly effective problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum in the 1980s and ’90s. When IU School of Medicine standardized its curriculum across all nine of its campuses in 2016, many principles of the PBL curriculum were incorporated and are still being used today, Bankston said.

Elizabeth Ryan and MD students“Dr. Iatridis was a tour de force as our director for 27 years,” Bankston said. “His vision was indispensable to making the center the ‘diamond in the crown’ of the statewide system of medical education with the largest number of faculty outside of Indianapolis and Bloomington and the most successful students as indicated by National Board Exam scores.”

Dipika Gupta, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, who joined the faculty in 1994, recalls many of her colleagues being reluctant to adopt a standardized, statewide curriculum. However, she now sees the benefits.

“In the past, the campuses used to work individually, and there were benefits, like being able to do the PBL curriculum, but we also kind of worked in isolation; now we work as a statewide system,” said Gupta, who is a member of the statewide Curriculum Council Steering Committee. “It’s not just me designing the course now. It’s a whole team of experts designing the course and coming up with the resources. And it’s a team effort to continually improve it.”


New residency programs and continued opportunities for growth

Ryan, who came to IU School of Medicine in October 2018, envisions many exciting opportunities taking shape over the next five years. She is eager to work with IUN’s new Chancellor, Ken Iwama, JD, to develop pipeline programs to get more undergraduate students interested in pursuing a medical degree on the Northwest campus.

Northwest-Gary Mock ClinicOn the other end of the educational mission, IU School of Medicine recently added its first residency program in Northwest Indiana, in psychiatry, with two more residencies in family medicine in the works through the efforts of the Northwest Consortium for Graduate Medical Education—a collaboration of the medical school and its clinical partners in the region.

Ryan also is working with School of Nursing Director Linda Delunas, PhD, RN, CNE, to develop an interdisciplinary, student-run clinic where medical and nursing students work side-by-side.

“I’d like to see us more connected to public health needs in Northwest Indiana and growing our research infrastructure and building connections with community partners to address health indicators that we want to improve in our region and the state,” Ryan said.

As for the type of student who excels at IU School of Medicine-Northwest-Gary, Ryan said, “Hopefully, we are attracting students who are hardworking, nice and passionate about improving care for Hoosiers in Gary and the region.”

Elizabeth Ryan“To study social determinants of health and contribute to removing barriers to care, I want students to join our campus family, live somewhere in Northwest Indiana and become a part of this community,” she said. “Being connected over time builds trust, sustainability and credibility from a community-engaged scholarship approach. Collectively, our efforts as a campus will contribute to improved care for Hoosiers in our region.”


Learn more about the student experience at IU School of Medicine-Northwest-Gary from alumni and current medical students on this 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.
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Laura Gates

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.