MU Walks the Talk with New Patient-Centered Care Learning Center

By Jennifer J. Salopek

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Last month, the University of Missouri Medical School broke ground on an innovative new facility at its main campus in Columbia: the Patient-Centered Care Learning Center (PCCLC). From name to design to construction materials, the building will reflect MU’s mission to educate future physicians to provide effective, patient-centered care.

The building is just part of an ambitious growth plan that includes expanding class size and establishing a new clinical campus in Springfield, Missouri. The school hopes to address a statewide physician shortage by expanding class size from 96 to 128. All students will spend their first two years in Columbia, then a small cohort of about 30 will move to Springfield, three hours away, to complete their education. The focus of the new PCCLC will be on first- and second-year students, explains Senior Associate Dean Linda Headrick. The 100,000-square-foot building will house classrooms, an anatomy lab, a simulation center, support and curricular services. It is uniquely designed to meet the needs of students, Headrick says.

“The design firm did a lot of listening to members of the community during the needs assessment phase, including students, and even shadowed students for a couple of days,” she says.

Rachel Kerr, of the St. Louis architecture and planning firm Christner, Inc., was the architect who engaged in those activities. “Our programming process includes one-on-one meetings with leaders, user groups, surveys, and these ‘day-in-the-life’ activities,” she says. “MU wanted to ensure that everyone felt involved in the creation of this building, and that we really got into the shoes of the constituents.”

Kerr followed a second-year student for two days, while colleagues shadowed an M1 and an admissions counselor; she made an additional visit during testing. Some of the things they heard loud and clear were a desire for more natural light; flexible, collaborative study and meeting spaces; informal spaces to congregate; and bathrooms and a changing area near the anatomy lab. There is a trend toward more flexible space that can be transitioned into various seating and work configurations, Kerr says.

Once the program was completed, Adam Cohen, associate principal at Kansas City architecture firm BNIM, swung into action. He says there were many synergies between the program and the design aesthetic at his firm. “MU made it clear from the beginning that they wanted a patient-centered care focus,” he says. “Although we call it human-focused, integrated design, the goals are well aligned.” The Christner program, he says, “laid a strong foundation for a design that reflects what the MU School of Medicine stands for: The student experience was of prime importance.”

As a result, the meeting and study spaces for the medical students’ problem-based learning groups will occupy the top two floors of the new building, providing plenty of natural light as well as stunning views of the campus and city. (“It was a great accomplishment to get students out of the basement,” Headrick says.) Comfortable lounges promote hanging out, and the views provide a visual connection to the older part of campus with a direct line of sight to Jesse Hall. A flat-floored classroom space permits seating at round tables rather than the traditional lecture-hall format. The building will showcase its patient-centric focus with clinical spaces that are warm, humane, and light-filled rather than clinical and sterile.

BNIM had the idea to reflect the school’s Missouri heritage by sourcing reclaimed building materials. The design will incorporate marble quarried in the early 1930s and reclaimed from the Kansas City Power & Light building for the entry steps; while wood for the elevator lobbies was taken from several locations, including a general store in Hannibal visited by Mark Twain. Glass walls surrounding conference rooms will hold messages about the Columbia community, Missouri, and the world; and the building will be decorated with historic, evocative artwork that reflects the diverse heritage of Native American, Hispanic, and Somali immigrant populations.

“People will be able to walk into the building and see something that reminds them of their background, to make a connection,” says Headrick. “For the school, it is a physical manifestation of the goals of our medical education program; its design and messaging emphasize effective patient-centered care for the people of Missouri and beyond. And for our students, it is a symbol and a constant reminder of whom we are trying to serve.”

Jennifer-1990-webJennifer J. Salopek is founding editor of Wing of Zock. She can be reached at, or follow her on Twitter @jsalopek.