YoungAlumni 275x275Marnix Heersink, M.D., and his wife, Mary, of Dothan, Alabama, are shedding light—literally and figuratively—on the evolution of medical education. The Heersink Family Foundation made a dual-purpose gift in 2020 to build a gleaming atrium at Volker Hall’s front entrance and transform part of the second floor into a bright, open center for active learning.

The Heersinks have observed a clear shift in medical education at UAB from the time the first of their six children enrolled at UAB to their youngest son who is in his final year of UAB School of Medicine. Didactic lectures have diminished in favor of student-driven learning, and various disciplines “commingle in the context of a patient walking in the door,” says Mary Heersink, a member of the School of Medicine Board of Visitors. “It’s a kinder, gentler, intelligent way of learning.”

In fact, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) now expects medical schools to use lectures for less than half of their preclinical coursework during the first two years. For UAB, anticipating LCME reaccreditation in 2022, the two new spaces will accelerate the move toward interdisciplinary, engaged learning.

Heersink familyThe Heersink family
The active learning resource center will include a “flipped classroom,” where students collaborate in small groups, using digital teaching tools, while the instructor moves between them. The focus on discussion and interaction helps students dive deep into topics and develop communication and problem-solving skills quickly.

“Active learning also prepares students to work with a wide range of health and research professionals once they graduate,” says Marnix Heersink, a cataract- and laser-refractive surgeon. “The doctors of tomorrow will be used to collaboration. Teams will decide what’s best for a patient.”

Linked with the active learning resource center, the glass-lined atrium will encourage medical students to cross paths—and strike up conversations—with faculty and scholars from different disciplines from all parts of campus. The bright sunny spot also will relax and recharge busy students, helping to lower their stress and improve overall wellness.

“Medicine is a team sport,” says Craig Hoesley, M.D., senior associate dean for Medical Education and chair of the Department of Medical Education. “Students must actively learn to solve and discuss complex scenarios together. We deeply appreciate the Heersink family’s generous gift, which will enable us to transform and modernize our learning space and develop welcoming space for students to interact with and engage each other.”

Marnix Heersink eagerly awaits the reaction from the first students entering the bright new spaces. “Our family is very thankful to help play a small role in enhancing their education,” he says. “UAB has strongly impacted our family and many others across the world. We want to nurture that and help it grow.”

With the example set by the Heersink family in mind, the School of Medicine has identified additional naming opportunities to help complete the transformation of Volker Hall’s sixth floor to include space for active, dynamic medical education. These include two breakout rooms to foster collaboration and study, three small group rooms, which will serve as home bases for the school’s Learning Communities, and a conference room for use by faculty, staff, and students. For more information on these and other naming opportunities, contact Erica Hollins at 205-996-6839 or ehollins@uab.edu.Charles Buchanan