Paths of exploration and discovery EXTRA
A collaborative effort

on this article

Spring 2012 issue (pdf)

Medical school curriculum takes evolutionary steps

Side-by-side with James Sebastian, MD, GME ’83, Fel ’84, Professor of General Internal Medicine, second-year student Sanghee Hong performs an exam on Cletus F. Fearson of Racine at the VA Medical Center.
Side-by-side with James Sebastian, MD, GME ’83, Fel ’84, Professor of General Internal Medicine, second- year student Sanghee Hong performs an exam on Cletus F. Fearson of Racine at the VA Medical Center.

Much like the practice of medicine, the teaching of medicine is ever-evolving. It changes to accommodate new knowledge and integrate approaches honed through experience and appraisal of the current health care landscape.

Medical education has long been a source of pride and accomplishment for the Medical College of Wisconsin, and this year will witness another milestone in the College’s commitment to providing students with the tools and training they need to become outstanding physicians in the field of their choice. In alignment with the latest standards and best practices nationwide, the Medical College is introducing its Discovery Curriculum, which will be implemented for the Class of 2016, whose members will matriculate this fall.

When it is unveiled in August 2012, the Discovery Curriculum will feature a year-long foundational program, a full second year of systems- and symptom-based units to ensure grounding in the basic sciences, early clinical experience with standardized patients in the first semester, and working with actual patients in a mentored clinical environment beginning in the second semester.

“I am extremely proud of the tireless, dedicated and thoughtful efforts of scores of our faculty, staff and students to bring this important curriculum initiative to fruition,” said Joseph E. Kerschner, MD ’90, Fel ’98, Dean of the Medical School and Executive Vice President.  “The exceptional quality of their work will enable us to move forward on a firm foundation as we seek to educate a new generation of physicians in a cutting-edge, real-world academic medical learning environment.”

The curriculum is designed to cultivate students’ skills and interests into a passion for lifelong learning while preparing them to become excellent physicians and compassionate and innovative leaders in education, patient care, research and community engagement.

“The Discovery Curriculum is a dynamic model that features multifaceted learning modalities including classroom experiences led by nationally recognized faculty, clinical experiences guided by expert mentors, peer-based small group interactions and opportunities for individualized career pursuits,” said José Franco, MD ’90, GME ’93, Fel ’95, Discovery Curriculum Director, Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, Director of Hepatology.

Growing knowledge & experience

 Current M2s Sanghee Hong, Elliot Walters and Paul Shotkin (L-R) talk prior to a supervised shift in the Yellow Clinic at the Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee.
The Medical College has continually enhanced its curriculum to meet the needs of students. The College has been a forerunner in providing medical students with early clinical experience. Current M2s Sanghee Hong, Elliot Walters and Paul Shotkin (L-R) talk prior to a supervised shift in the Yellow Clinic at the Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee. In the Discovery Curriculum, these experiences will be known as clinical apprenticeships.

The model ensures that first-year students with varied backgrounds master fundamental basic science content before progressing to complex biomedical problem-solving in organ systems. Second-year courses are fully integrated and continue students’ preparation for the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam Step 1. Systems- and symptom-based units are organized around common symptoms and focus on assimilating students’ knowledge of the basic sciences acquired in year one.

In their first semester, students begin learning the basic clinical competencies required for working in clinic, which commences in the second semester. During these clinical apprenticeships in students’ second and third semesters, faculty preceptors mentor students, observe their respective levels of patient care and provide direct feedback. The fourth semester emphasizes clinical skills practice, allowing students to hone the skills they began developing in the clinic.

“While still incorporating the strengths and successes we have already seen at the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Discovery Curriculum offers innovations that take us to the next level of excellence, allowing for education to be learner-directed and tailored to the interests of individual students,” said Anil Sharma, Class of 2014, who was among the current students who provided input on the curriculum’s creation. “The integrated model allows for strong connections between the basic science foundations and clinical medicine. It has been an exhilarating experience for me personally during this time of creating the new curriculum, just seeing the great level of enthusiasm of all those involved and the sheer amount of thought and work at every level of detail.”

The curriculum will continue to feature Scholarly Pathways that give students an opportunity to individualize their training in one of several areas of concentration and pursue related scholarly projects. Students may select the Academic Clinician pathway, Clinician Educator pathway, Global Health pathway, Physician Scientist pathway or Urban & Community Health pathway during their M1-M3 years. The curriculum also includes dedicated independent study time to accommodate students’ varied learning styles.

The third and fourth years of medical school will still consist of clerkships and electives, and sub-internships and integrative selectives respectively. Time will also be protected for Pathway activities for M3 students. As time spent in direct patient care and other clinical activities increases in the M1 and M2 years, basic science topics will be further integrated into the M3 and M4 years, allowing for the revisiting of core concepts in the context of patient care. Work continues on the design of this aspect of the curriculum.

Competency through collaboration

“The College’s Discovery Curriculum is a reflection of the changing atmosphere in health care,” said Chelsea Tessler-Verville, Class of 2014. “Students are encouraged to seek others’ opinions and work as a team to enhance learning, elucidate a diagnosis and coordinate treatment plans. In addition to studying isolated disease processes, we encounter the many facets of chronic illness while working closely with patients and faculty mentors in the clinic. These opportunities allow us to think and react like physicians from day one. It’s an exciting time to be a student at MCW.”

The evolution of the Discovery Curriculum has been ongoing since 2007. It is faculty-driven, reflective of the value the College places on faculty leadership and expertise, and has garnered considerable enthusiasm among the student body. Over the past many months, more than 100 faculty and students collaborated on the vision and working design of the medical education curriculum.

“As a member of the M1 and M2 Work Group, participating in the development of the vision for a new curriculum was an interesting and positive experience,” said Alan S. Bloom, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology.  “The collegiality and efforts of the faculty and students were impressive, which sets a very positive tone for the intense efforts ahead of us as we work to implement the envisioned Discovery Curriculum.”

A collaborative effort

Medical College faculty and students provided input on the Discovery Curriculum, and they agree that working together made it better. Here are some of their specific thoughts.

“I have found one of the most exciting aspects of the Discovery Curriculum to be the fact that it is the work of a collaborative process: with basic scientists, clinicians, and staff members coming together with students to create an innovative curriculum that is geared toward producing exceptional and compassionate physicians prepared to practice medicine in the 21st century.”
— Anil Sharma, Class of 2014

“The faculty, including both PhDs and MDs, worked diligently to craft a scholarly project requirement of all students, regardless of pathway, that will be of high quality. Beyond merely having completed a project, students will, at the end of their education, have obtained the drive, methods, collaborative spirit, and long-term commitment needed for future success. These skills are necessary for any future physician, as more and more specialties require projects for re-certification.”
— Ryan Spellecy, PhD, Associate Professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities, and Psychiatry

“As a student representative in the Early Clinical Exposure Work Group, I had the opportunity to witness as the faculty developed a curriculum that pushes students toward clinical excellence in the short term and becoming lifelong learners in the long run. This new educational direction is rooted in tireless self-examination, self-improvement and meeting the needs of changing times. My greatest hope is that the Discovery Curriculum imparts this spirit to future students in addition to didactic medical training, such that future MCW graduates learn to constantly devote to the craft of medicine what the faculty have put into the craft of teaching.”
David Wang, Class of 2014

Curriculum details

For more information, follow the links:

Discovery Curriculum design
M1 overview
M2 overview
Scholarly Pathways
Competencies & objectives


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