Sept. 15-21, 2000
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Off the Shelf

Medical School adopts new, integrated curriculum

By Nancy Hurrelbrinck

Medical students entering school this fall will encounter a curriculum that has been revamped, offering them the opportunity to take a mix of classes in basic science, clinical science and electives throughout their four years, rather than studying these independent of one another.

They will also attend smaller classes and fewer lectures, devote more time to independent study and experience patient contact earlier in their academic careers.

"We're moving from a content-oriented curriculum that emphasized lectures to case-based, small-group, interactive instruction," Medical School Dean Robert M. Carey told the Board of Visitors' Health Affairs Committee Sept. 7. "We want to encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning, because, once they're doctors, they'll be doing a lot of problem-solving."

Objectives of the new medical school curriculum

Integrate and coordinate basic science and clinical experiences throughout the four years.

Allow time for creative expression in the basic sciences, in clinical medicine and in service to the community while including elective opportunities to explore general medicine, specialty medicine and research.

Achieve a balance of lecture, problem-based learning, patient experiences and blocks of open study time.

Create time in the early years for frequent patient contact; integrate patient experiences with the clinical sciences.

Led by Dr. Donald J. Innes Jr., associate dean for curriculum, a 10-member committee of Medical School faculty has spent the past year reviewing, evaluating and revising the cuarriculum. Two other committees have focused on curricula in clinical medicine and basic science, reporting back to the first committee.

"We built consensus for this change, and it's exciting that all the basic science departments are working together with the clinical departments," Carey said.

This year, first-year medical students will attend 50 percent fewer lectures, devoting three afternoons each week to self-directed study. All are taking "The Practice of Medicine," an interdisciplinary course whose content includes professionalism, patient interviewing, physical diagnosis, the history of medicine and biomedical ethics. Each class has six students and two faculty members.

Clinical medicine and basic science will be less segregated than formerly.

In the traditional medical school curriculum, the first two years are devoted to basic science, the third to clinical science and the fourth to electives.

In the new U.Va. curriculum, all three areas are covered throughout the student's course of study, with an emphasis on principles of medicine in the first two years, on clinical science in the third and on electives in the fourth. Some classes will be team-taught by faculty who specialize in basic and clinical science, so students will "get the sense they can convert science into something useful at the bedside," Carey said.

"This curriculum is a blend of traditional medical curriculum and several [new] elements. We kept what we thought was best and added things we thought we needed," he said.

Apparently, that's what students are looking for: the Medical School used the new curriculum in its marketing when recruiting this year, and a larger proportion of students than usual who were accepted chose to come here, he said.



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