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A Medical Education Makeover

New Curriculum Revamp Emphasizes Patient Care

Two years of basic sciences, two years of clinical rotations. That’s the standard medical education curriculum, a formula that’s been in place for decades in many American medical schools. But just because that’s the way it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it’s the way it should be, say members of the New Curriculum Committee at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) .

A Medical Education Makeover

The group, an ad hoc committee of the school’s Curriculum Oversight Group, is taking a close look at the medical education curriculum at SMHS, as well as the curriculum at other medical schools. Based on the committee’s feedback and recommendations, a new curriculum will be developed and is on track to be implemented in fall 2014.

“Educating our students to serve as clinicians, researchers, and health policy leaders is a sacred trust,” says Alex Stagnaro-Green, M.D., senior associate dean for Education at SMHS and chair of the committee. “The process we are undertaking is both exciting and daunting.”

The New Curriculum Committee, which has held weekly meetings since February 2011, comprises medical students, department chairs, residency directors, course and clerkship directors, and others. Ensuring accurate representation was a top priority when forming the group, says Stagnaro-Green.

“We want to make certain that it’s a school-wide effort that people feel excited about and vested in because they were active participants in its creation,” he says.

According to Thomas “Bruce” Shaver, a third-year medical student at SMHS who serves on the committee, the approach is working. “The openness and inclusiveness of the process has strengthened my belief that SMHS really is a special place, and I am very excited about the changes that are forthcoming,” he says.

One of the committee’s first tasks was to identify the guiding principles that would provide a framework for the process. They decided on concepts that include professional growth, taking responsibility, and early clinical exposure. In all, the eight principles form the acronym PATIENTS.

“One of the hallmarks of GW is that we train great clinicians,” says Stagnaro-Green. “The acronym PATIENTS is emblematic of our commitment to developing a curriculum that puts the patient first.”

But the committee is not afraid to look to other schools for curricular inspiration. They have visited universities both near and far, including The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, The New York University School of Medicine, and the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine (PLFSOM) in El Paso. Stagnaro-Green calls PLF-SOM a “fascinating” model that uses a symptom-based, not the traditional systems-based, integrated curriculum.

Rather than mimicking any of the other models, the new curriculum will likely feature elements of many. The ultimate goal, says Stagnaro-Green, is to create the best possible curriculum for the next generation of GW-trained physicians. “The new curriculum process will serve to maintain GW as a national leader in medical education,” he says.