Medical school to boost patient focus

A new curriculum for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences will dramatically increase patient-care training to improve students’ clinical skills.

The committee working on the curriculum overhaul – the largest in about a decade – will release a public draft next month, stressing clinical duties for students in their first and second years, instead of focusing solely on fundamentals like anatomy and immunobiology. Changes will be implemented for fall 2014.

The medical school’s senior associate dean for education, Alex Stagnaro-Green, said the curriculum shift – which he has steered for more than two years – will help students improve diagnoses, treatments and interactions with their patients.

For a patient with diabetes for example, Stagnaro-Green said, students will learn how to tie biochemistry with the complications of diabetes.

The committee proposing the curriculum changes is also proposing a letter grade system for students, instead of pass-fail, and shortened rotations for students in fields like surgery, psychiatry and pediatrics. Specific changes are expected to be mostly nailed down by early 2013.

The group suggests a pass-fail system – like the current grading – for students’ first two to four months in school, and a letter grade system for the rest of the four years, which Stagnaro-Green called “a major frame shift.”

The 2010 health care reform law has spurred medical schools to take a closer look at their curriculums to become more patient-focused, Stagnaro-Green said, especially as the law is expected to open up the industry to more people in need of primary care doctors.

The planning has included visits to medical schools at Johns Hopkins and New York universities and at least 30 meetings of the steering committee, said Stagnaro-Green, who led the group.

The curriculum will ultimately need approval from the school’s Faculty Assembly.

The curriculum will also take advantage of a patient simulation center – where students learn to talk to patients about sensitive subjects like death and sexual histories – that is set to open in Ross Hall in 2013.

The medical school’s clinical training came under fire in 2008 for poorly monitoring students’ learning and time with patients, leading to a probation from its accrediting body.

Stagnaro-Green, who came on about a month after the probation was lifted, said the curriculum reform was unrelated to the probation.

Professor of medicine and health policy Fitzhugh Mullan said he hopes the curriculum incorporates community health practices and training to serve a diverse range of patients.

“It’s not only about what students get from it, but also as an important institution that gets public money, it needs to be concerned about the well-being of the community,” he said.

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