Med School to see reform

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Photo by Kathryn Crandall .

When Yale School of Medicine first-years arrive in New Haven in fall 2015, they will encounter a curriculum drastically different than that taught today.

The School of Medicine is currently in the process of reforming its curriculum to integrate clinical knowledge with basic science teaching and provide students with earlier exposure to clinical experience. The change comes in the midst of medical school curricula reform across the country aimed at better preparing students for a rapidly evolving health care system. The School of Medicine plans to pilot one aspect of the reform during the 2014–’15 academic year and roll out the full curriculum the year after.

“This is a pretty dramatic change,” said Mike Schwartz, associate dean for curriculum at the Yale School of Medicine. “It’s a more integrated approach, and it brings the students to patients earlier in the curriculum. The notion is ‘How can we make things stick a bit better?’”

Currently, medical students spend the first two years immersed in basic and clinical science classes, not gaining significant hands-on clinical experience until the third and fourth years, Schwartz said. In contrast, the new curriculum will feature one-and-a-half years of traditional classroom instruction paired with introductory clinical experience featuring weekly patient visits. Students will then spend a year devoted solely to clinical experience, with the final year and a half for research and electives.

The condensed classroom time will eliminate redundancy and integrate different specialties and disciplines, said Michael Alpert MED ’14, one of the two medical students on the committee overseeing curriculum reform.

“The basic idea is to try to integrate more clinical experience so people understand why they’re learning what they’re learning,” said Amy Justice MED ’88, professor of medicine and public health and a member of the committee. “The Krebs cycle doesn’t exactly get you out of bed in the morning — this is a way of helping you understand why the Krebs cycle is relevant.”

The new curriculum will present administrative challenges, said Robert Alpern, dean of the School of Medicine. With a greater focus on interdepartmental teaching, Alpern said the school will have to coordinate among classes that were previously siloed from each other.

Though the interdepartmental nature of the new curriculum may require more coordination, Schwartz said it may also provide new ideas for teaching. Because classes will no longer be isolated within departments, instructors can feature more integrated content in class.

“We’re including all the faculty [in this process], and there are now possibilities that exist for them that didn’t when they were teaching in silos,” he said.

According to the five School of Medicine faculty members interviewed, the curriculum will likely require a degree of tweaking as it is rolled out.

Chair of the Department of Pediatrics George Lister MED ’73 said the success of the program will be determined by how the faculty and administration are able to adjust to what is and is not successful.

“Some things are not going to work,” he said. “That’s inherent when you’re trying something new, and it’s something everyone has to be prepared for from new educational processes.”

The Yale School of Medicine was founded in 1810.

Correction: Feb. 12

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Yale School of Medicine has a student body of 400. In fact, there are about 400 students pursuing an M.D. alone. 

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