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David Geffen School of Medicine

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By Dan Gordon • Photography by Gregg Segal

The opening of Geffen Hall as the ultramodern and high-tech hub of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA heralds a new era of education that promises to be at the forefront of medicine in the future.
Practically speaking, Geffen Hall, the new student-education building that opened in winter 2017, gives the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA a distinct and recognizable home after more than 60 years of being tucked away within the vast expanse of the Center for the Health Sciences (CHS). There, the school was folded into a facility of 3.1-million square feet and with more than 28 miles of corridors.

But the six-level, 110,000-square-foot Geffen Hall, near the intersection of Le Conte Avenue and Tiverton Drive, is much more than just a first-ever physical hub for the medical school and a new southern entryway to the UCLA campus. It is viewed by the school’s leadership as a gateway of another sort — ushering the Geffen School into a new era of medical and biomedical education that is in step with a rapidly changing healthcare environment.

The architecture of Geffen Hall embodies the medical school’s evolving mission. The building’s glass exterior and open layout signal transparency, its large windows providing sweeping views of a community the school is determined to actively engage. Provisions for advanced multimedia technology reflect the school’s desire to connect to the broader world — both to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center nearby and to partners around the globe. And, at a time when teamwork is increasingly emphasized in biomedical science and healthcare, a host of interconnected spaces surrounding a central courtyard ensures that students and faculty will frequently cross paths as they move between teaching and learning activities, while comfortable common areas are designed to foster a collaborative learning community.

Indeed, notes Clarence H. Braddock III, MD, vice dean for education and Maxine and Eugene Rosenfeld Endowed Chair in Medical Education, Geffen Hall represents much more than a simple change of address. “With the new space, there is a certain excitement for students and faculty to begin to catalyze a period of innovation around content and methods of teaching,” he says. “We are entering a time of curriculum renewal.”

MUCH HAS CHANGED IN THE MORE THAN 60 YEARS SINCE CHS, which heretofore housed the medical school’s classrooms and labs, was built. “Back then, if you were a first- or second-year medical student, you spent most of your time listening passively in lecture halls and then studying and taking tests,” Dr. Braddock says. “With advances in technology and a better understanding of the science of teaching and learning, we now know that there are much more effective approaches for which the traditional lecture hall isn’t the right kind of space.”

Those approaches include small-group settings, where students are more accountable for their learning and can more easily interact with their instructors and other students. For example, problem-based learning workshops assign groups of eight-to-12 students a clinical case on a Monday morning and have them work toward a solution by Friday, as they are concurrently attending lectures and labs. In addition, Dr. Braddock notes, teaching increasingly has moved to simulated environments, where students can practice conducting physical exams and performing procedures prior to seeing live patients. These, too, can be incorporated into problem-solving exercises in small-group settings.

Dramatic changes in medical science and healthcare delivery demand both a rethinking of and new approaches to training tomorrow’s physician leaders, Dr. Braddock says. With the explosion of genomic and other basic-science information on health and disease, along with the technological tools to access it, the focus has shifted away from asking students to memorize facts and toward giving them the skills to quickly mobilize knowledge at the point of care. “It’s much more important that today’s students learn how to learn and that they have the opportunity to take those foundational concepts and apply them in realistic kinds of scenarios, as well as to be able to toggle back and forth between basic-science concepts and clinical applications so that they’re bringing those concepts to life,” Dr. Braddock explains.

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  Top: Students like (from left) Hiro Sparks, Nirali Patel and Jonathan Warren gather and interact in the spacious student lounge. Bottom: The lounge offers quiet study spaces and scenic views.
The ever-growing volume of data now available in healthcare — electronic medical records with patient histories, lab tests, imaging studies and genomic information — is fueling a move toward precision medicine. “Physicians of the future will need to understand disease at both the population level and in a personalized way for each individual,” says Kelsey C. Martin, MD, PhD, dean of the medical school. “The scholarship on how best to utilize all of this information is still being developed, but it will clearly involve a quantitative approach to large data sets and the use of technology.”

At the same time, healthcare leaders now are placing more emphasis on patient- and family-centered care, underscoring the importance of preparing future doctors who will be effective and empathic listeners who can skillfully work with patients and their families to navigate difficult decisions. And, as the nation grapples with how to improve the health of the population as a whole, there is a need for physicians who understand the social determinants of health, including the impact of factors such as education, employment, housing and the physical environment within which people live.

Far more than in the past, physicians are working in teams — both with other doctors and with other healthcare professionals such as nurses, pharmacists, dietitians and physical and respiratory therapists — in order to meet higher standards for quality care. “Along with most other medical schools in the country, we are recognizing the need for more inter-professional education,” Dr. Martin says. “Physicians work alongside nurses in most settings, and we need to partner with our colleagues in public health when we are thinking about population health. As we examine how to transform health in the future, understanding how to apply important basic-science discoveries is going to be critical. So creating more opportunities for our medical students to interact with nursing, dental, public health and biomedical-research students is something that we value.”

BY PROVIDING A VASTLY DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENT for teaching, learning and informal interactions, Drs. Martin and Braddock say, Geffen Hall makes it considerably easier for the medical school to train students toward these and other goals.
Conceived through a year of intensive planning among medical-school faculty and students and architects, Geffen Hall features a modern exterior design that incorporates the UCLA motif of brick and aluminum, along with landscaping that integrates the adjacent Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. Geffen Hall’s liberal use of glass and large windows is intended to promote interaction as much as to draw in the outside light. “It’s a huge contrast to where we were before, where everything was internal, and the only real daylight we saw was when we sat outside for lunch,” says Orly Bell, a second-year student. “As medical students, we spend most of our time indoors studying, and now, within this space, we always have lots of natural light.”

The centerpiece of Geffen Hall is the open-air central courtyard — described by its architects as the “social heart” around which the building is constructed. The ground level includes benches and plantings, but it is made up mostly of a stone-paved surface that encourages people to congregate. The two levels surrounding the courtyard feature open-air balconies with seats and counters where students can mingle and study. Exterior stairways rising from the courtyard, also in the open air, are intended to draw attention to the life of the facility. “We’ve used the Los Angeles climate as an important part of the experience of the building,” says Craig Hartman, the partner in charge of design for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP, the project’s architects. “We have walkway spaces protected from rain, but we’ve brought most of the circulation for the building to the open-air exterior, which takes people out of their closed environment and makes them a much more lively part of the building’s social experience.”

Inside Geffen Hall, the designers aimed for flexibility, with open spaces and the ability to reconfigure rooms to tailor educational activities for small, mid-size and larger groups. “This building was designed with a recognition that the way we teach medicine now is different from how it used to be and that we will continue to undergo changes in the future,” Dr. Martin says. Similarly, classrooms are equipped for leading-edge learning technologies, such as multimedia teleconferencing, virtual reality and simulation activities, while remaining suitable for small roundtable discussions that promote critical thinking and active engagement of learners.


Auditorium Suite. Gravitas is how Dr. Braddock describes this technology-optimized space, which will be a centerpiece for renowned speakers and thought leaders on the south end of the UCLA campus. The 223-seat room includes outlets and microphones at every seat to encourage dialogue, multiple screens with high-speed internet and video- and teleconferencing that seamlessly connect with remote institutions.

Studio Classroom. This large multipurpose room on the building’s ground level can hold up to 400 people with flexible seating. It opens directly to the central courtyard and the entry plaza, making it ideally suited for health fairs, community forums and other events. The room is designed to leverage the latest technologies and dynamic teaching methods, its flat floor drawing a sharp contrast with the traditional sloped topography of a typical lecture hall — a signal that the audience will be actively engaged in the discussions. Increasingly, Dr. Braddock notes, straight lectures are giving way to team-based learning, with presentations interspersed with small-group work, during which the instructor wanders the classroom to guide students.

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  Outdoor passageways also provide opportunities
for students to meet and collaborate.

Teaching Laboratory. A “classroom of the future” that can accommodate a 200-student lecture or be divided into two sections, the third-floor room is particularly suited to evolve with curricula and technology. It incorporates interactive digital-learning programs, virtual microscopy and treatment-simulation programs. A technology workstation projects between the student stations and the instructor station. Small groups of students can collaborate as teams with flat-panel displays, speakers and cameras with which they can use computer-based technology to create simulations. A case study of congestive heart failure, for example, might display the vital signs of a patient in a cardiac-care unit, then allow students to see the real-time impact of their interventions on the patient’s physiology.

Clinical Skills Lab. An extension of the existing state-of-the-art UCLA Simulation Center, the lab provides a place for students to prepare for real-world settings by practicing clinical skills such as heart, ear, breast, prostate and gynecology exams, as well as ultrasound and CPR, on simulators and manikins in an accurate re-creation of a clinical setting.

Problem-based Learning (PBL) Rooms. To enhance the student-centered teaching and learning approach that was pioneered at UCLA and is a distinguishing feature of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA curriculum, Geffen Hall’s PBL classrooms are designed to fit the small groups of students who work together to formulate the questions that will become their learning objectives. Larger seminar rooms accommodate up to 30 learners for broader PBL analyses and small conferences.

Case Study Rooms. Inspired by business- and law-school instruction models, these semi-circular classrooms have a “well” in the middle for the instructor — a configuration that allows for more intimate group instruction and communication than the traditional lecture setting.

“This building has the types of spaces that don’t exist anywhere else on the campus, which will allow us to do things we weren’t able to do before,” Dr. Braddock says. “But equally important, it provides us with the flexibility to step back at times and actively explore innovative new ways of teaching and learning that are best aligned with our goals.”

GEFFEN HALL’S VERY LOCATION SENDS ANOTHER IMPORTANT SIGNAL, accentuated by the design of the building and the surrounding site. Facing Le Conte Avenue, it serves as a portal between Westwood Village and the UCLA campus, which the school’s leadership expects will accelerate efforts to engage with the broader community, as well as with other parts of the university. In addition to serving medical students and trainees, the space will provide a venue for UCLA-hosted public lectures, health fairs and seminars. “We need to think about medicine beyond the walls of the hospital and the clinic — and in our case beyond the walls of the medical school — and focus more on enhancing health through working with communities,” Dr. Braddock says.
Hartman, the architect, describes this new interface as “stepping out from behind the hedges. Most of the university is behind landscapes and more internally focused. Given the site location, this was an opportunity to embrace the community,” he says.

To enhance the portal effect, the building’s designers sought to convert what Hartman calls a “spaghetti bowl” of service roads accessing the parking structures and Tiverton Drive into a cohesive site that is primarily accessed by pedestrians and bicyclists. The design also is intended to ensure that Geffen Hall will be used as the gateway to CHS and other parts of the UCLA campus from the south. In addition to the pedestrian-friendly courtyard on the first level, the second level, which connects with the Irma and Norman Switzer Plaza, features a café plaza where students, faculty and staff from nearby parts of campus, as well as from the medical school, can congregate.

LIKE NEVER BEFORE, GEFFEN HALL GIVES THE MEDICAL SCHOOL A CENTRAL FOCUS for all of its educational activities. It is a visible home with ample spaces for sitting, working and interacting; where administrative offices and student services are conveniently located on the ground level; and where classrooms are situated so that they open onto the courtyard, turning it into a “town square” of sorts. “It’s a very collaborative environment,” medical student Bell says. “You can be standing at the bottom level and see someone you know on the top floor of the opposite side. It gives you a sense of community.”

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  The open spaces of Geffen Hall increase the opportunities for interaction among students like third-year Gabriela Gonzalez and second-year Michael Lor.

For second-year student Jonathan Warren, the biggest benefit to come from the new building is the increased contact he now has with students from his class, as well as from the classes above his. “We bump into each other a lot more now and can stop and communicate, seeing what other people are up to and how they’re doing,” he says. “That’s been really nice.”

The increased social interaction and bonding with peers helps to relieve the stress that can be part of medical school, but Warren notes that it also serves a more concrete purpose. “You get a better sense of where the class is as a whole,” he says. In January, when, as first-year students, members of his class began their preceptorships (mentored experiences with practicing physicians), Warren used the chance encounters at Geffen Hall to share stories about the experiences. “I ended up talking to students who started at an oncology practice, which helped me learn more about that specialty,” he says. “And now that I’m crossing paths more with students who are farther along, I’m able to get advice on what it’s been like to participate in certain interest groups and how to find the right balance of my time.”

“We look to our older students as role models and people we can count on for advice and insights about the upcoming years,” adds Molly Sprague, a third-year student. “They can tell you stories about how they’ve dealt with the difficult cases and the trauma of being exposed to certain things, how they’ve handled the long hours and what it’s like to be acting as a doctor on the wards. Those are valuable exchanges, and having common areas where you are more likely to have those conversations is really helpful.”

Sprague served on the advisory committee for the design of Geffen Hall’s student lounge, a spacious room with scenic views of the health-sciences complex and Los Angeles. Equipped with a kitchen, billiard and ping-pong tables and flexible furnishings, the lounge is meant to serve as a respite from the rigors of the day, where students can eat their lunch, comfortably study and talk with peers. Sprague traces her interest in medicine to a moment in her childhood, when she watched her father, an orthopaedic surgeon who began his career at UCLA, stride onto the soccer field and attend to her teammate’s broken leg. “He was so strong and capable, and he charmed my teammate with his kindness and compassion,” Sprague recalls. “I want to become a doctor like my dad — a doctor who helps people when they are vulnerable and most in need.”

At Geffen Hall, Sprague says, “We won’t study the mechanism by which insulin-binding receptors on cells lead to increased glucose uptake just as a mental exercise or to pass a test. We will learn about it to think of ways we can approach new, affordable drug development, improve quality of life for those living with diabetes and reach more patients in need.”

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  Geffen Hall was designed with input and planning among medical-school faculty and students and architects. The building features a modern exterior design that incorporates the UCLA motif
of brick and aluminum.

Sprague is emblematic of the exceptional students who are drawn to UCLA. Many of those students, like Orly Bell, are attracted, in part, to The David Geffen Medical Scholarships, which cover the entire four-year cost of attending medical school for nearly 20 percent of students in each medical-school class. The school is now receiving more than 12,000 applicants for the 175 places in each class. “David Geffen’s support has transformed our medical school,” Dr. Martin says of the philanthropist, who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to the medical school since 2002. “It’s more than just the building; it’s the impact his support has had on the entire institution.”

Dr. Braddock notes that in addition to becoming outstanding clinicians, today’s UCLA medical students are encouraged to develop a second area of passion that they can integrate into their future career. The number of students pursuing a second degree — such as public health, public policy or business administration — has nearly doubled in the last several years as a result. Nearly one-third of incoming students already have a master’s degree, or bring experiences such as teaching, research or Peace Corps service to the program. “We want to train leaders who, beyond their practice, will make an impact on the broader landscape of health and healthcare delivery,” Dr. Braddock says.

Geffen Hall will bolster recruiting efforts even further, he adds, “But our hope is that more than just a shiny new building, Geffen Hall makes a statement about our commitment to medical education and the forward-thinking way in which we are preparing our students for their careers.”

Dan Gordon is a regular contributor to U Magazine.



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