Health Care and Higher Education

MSU med school reinvents curriculum

Students will perform clinical work at beginning of education rather than at the end.

January 20, 2017
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Shared Discovery Curriculum
From left, Kevin Sandhu and Ayowale Oladeji, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine students, work with Jana M. Simmons, Ph.D., assistant professor, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Courtesy MSU College of Human Medicine

Striving to remain at the forefront of medical innovation, the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine implemented a new curriculum, which turns the previous format on its head.

At the beginning of the fall semester, MSU introduced its Shared Discovery curriculum, which places an emphasis on students receiving clinical experience at the forefront of their education, rather than on the back end. Under the Shared Discovery curriculum, a student will spend the first two years of their medical education performing clinical work in addition to their in-class studies. Previously, the first two years of medical school consisted of in-class learning almost exclusively.

Designed by Aron Sousa, senior associate for academic affairs, and Dianne Wagner, associate dean for undergraduate medical education, the curriculum was developed over the course of about five years of research and discussion.

“We sort of went and looked at medical curricula for the last century and decided to start over,” Sousa said. “And in many ways, we inverted a traditional medical school curriculum.”

Sousa said the new curriculum accelerates the process of training students in their chosen path and puts the focus on patient care over disciplines and organ systems. The previous curriculum, which had students complete their coursework prior to the introduction of clinical work, was better suited to an earlier era in which physicians did their own lab work.

“The changes that had happened in medicine allowed us some room, and we were free to rethink what it was that was most important for physicians to do, what skills they would need and how to best provide students with that experience,” Sousa said. “And we thought that we could do better than parking students in a classroom for two years, as though they were still in college.”

The impetus behind this thinking is students admitted to MSU College of Human Medicine already have demonstrated their capability in schoolwork and are ready to take on the rigors of working in a clinic, Sousa said.

Students enrolled in the Shared Discovery program will receive hands-on experience at 93 clinics in the Grand Rapids and East Lansing areas.

The full spectrum of clinical work the students will receive is separated into three stages. The 24-week Early Clinical Experience will see students take vitals and temperature, learn about blood pressure and temperature regulation and administer shots. As students perform these tasks, they will learn about immunology, microbiology, disciplines and organ systems in tandem with their work.

The Middle Clinical Experience further integrates clinical work in health care by introducing rotations through a variety of health care tracks, including physical therapy, social work, pediatric wards and emergency medicine, among others. Late Clinical Experience will place students in disciplinary clerkships in both hospital and outpatient settings.

In addition to the students getting a hands-on education, area clinics have the chance to forge strong talent pipelines with a stream of future physicians, who will have four years of work experience before their first day of residency training.

“I think our goal is that we’re going to turn out physicians who are closer to what practices really need than in a traditional curriculum,” Sousa said.

Albeit a small sample size, the initial returns on the first semester of the Shared Discovery curriculum largely have been positive. Student performance on a progress knowledge exam, administered twice a semester, shows students appear to be making progress at a faster rate than in what Sousa calls the legacy program.

While the school is pleased with the early success of the new curriculum, implementation hasn’t been without its growing pains. Much of that stems from the complications with running two curricula concurrently, a difficulty that will alleviate itself as students enrolled in the legacy curriculum begin to graduate in the coming years.

“It’s particularly difficult for finding clinical sites, since we’re putting students in clinics earlier, while our legacy program has students entering clinics later in their education,” Sousa said. “Right now, we’re doing double duty, which will get better as we phase to one curriculum.”

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