For Joshua Sheehan, make-believe was the next best thing to real life on Tuesday as he checked on an ER patient in a simulation suite in Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s new medical education building.

The Bowman Gray Center for Medical Education just opened, after an 18-month renovation of a former Reynolds American tobacco manufacturing plant, downtown in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. Classes at the medical school, which has about 480 students, will start Monday.

“You feel like you’re immersed in the environment,” Sheehan, a second-year medical student at Wake Forest School of Medicine, said of the simulation training.

“The whole set-up looks like an actual emergency room. You can feel free to make mistakes.”

In the past, the only time students got a training opportunity such as this was to go to an actual ER, he said.

Sheehan likes using a simulation mannequin for training.

“It has real pulses,” he said. “When you listen with a stethoscope, you can hear it breathing. You can hear its heart. Its eyes react to light. You can even look inside the ears.”

The Bowman Gray Center was designed with the next generation of physician-leaders in mind, offering flexible space and dedicated areas for quiet, individual study.

Wake Forest Baptist said the opening coincides with Wake Forest School of Medicine’s introduction of one of the most advanced medical school curriculums in the country.

Consisting of five floors, the new school of medicine is in 168,000 square feet on the north side of the former plant. It offers teleconferencing learning spaces, experiential learning spaces such as a large clinical skills center with 20 simulated patient rooms, and clinical anatomy where medical students will learn the fundamentals of human structure and development in an expanded laboratory.

The building also has student areas called “houses,” where each year’s class is divided into collaborative groups. Students can gather for mentoring, group study, conversation, meals, exercise and rest.

At the end of August, Deacon Gallery — aimed at inspiring students about the role Wake Forest School of Medicine has played in advancing medical education, research and clinical care — will open.

“Today marks the end of a well-executed vision to move a significant portion of our school of medicine and become part of a community of innovation, discovery and collaboration in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter,” Dr. John McConnell, chief executive of Wake Forest Baptist, said Tuesday.

He said that when he arrived at Wake Forest Baptist in 2008, he knew the medical center had one of the most outstanding medical schools in the country but not an outstanding facility for the first few years of medical education.

“The building served its time, but medicine has changed,” McConnell said. “The way we actually practice medicine, the way we teach medical students and residents has evolved, and the facility simply did not permit us to deploy the modern curriculum that had been developed.”

Dr. Edward Abraham, dean of the Wake Forest School of Medicine, spoke of “team-based, interprofessional learning,” how the center’s goal is to prepare a collaborative, highly skilled health care workforce that can better respond to health needs in the community.

“Medical students who learn alongside students from other health care professions report a better understanding of collaborative care and higher levels of overall satisfaction with their medical training and practice,”Abraham said.

Transportation has been considered for students. Wake Forest Baptist will increase its existing shuttle service to and from the medical center to the Innovation Quarter.

Next year, Wake Forest University will offer new undergraduate programs in biomedical sciences and engineering in 115,000 square feet on the south side of the building.

“The combination of having undergraduate programs and biomedical sciences and engineering done in conjunction with medical education is a real innovation and one that will serve our students certainly well,” said Nathan Hatch, Wake’s president.

The Bowman Gray Center qualified for historic tax credits worth more than $23 million toward its estimated $60 million cost, Wake Forest Baptist said.

Eric Tomlinson, president of Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, expects the additional students to change the complexion of the Innovation Quarter because of the “energy and vibrancy that they bring.”

“We’re ready for them,” Tomlinson said. “Bailey Park is now fully developed with the water feature, and the food trucks are all ready for them.”

The building was developed in partnership with Wexford Science & Technology LLC, the developer of a number of projects in the Innovation Quarter.

“In the past, we’ve dealt primarily with office space and lab space, but here we’re dealing with clinical, anatomy, teaching, office and lab space,” said Daniel Cramer, senior vice president of development for Wexford.

Source: Winston-Salem Journal by Fran Daniel