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Group calls for creative medical curricula

BY ZHANRAN ZHAO | JUNE 09, 2009 7:26 AM

Medical-school students may not have to face a harrowing list of calculus classes and exams to graduate in the future. According to a recent report, they might only have to demonstrate they know how to apply their math skills in practice.

The report, which was issued on June 4, is the result of a collaborative effort between the American Association of Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to update and improve on the current medical-school curriculum.

In place of a rigid list of courses, the report recommends a set of skills — or “competencies” — as the bedrock of a medical-school education.

These skills include patient communication and critical analysis of scientific literature. They aim at building a flexible system of medical education.

The 22-member committee, which issued the report, hopes this new system would allow more creative course design and give students the chance to pursue a broader liberal arts education.

In addition, the committee tries to address the concern that medical schools are hard-pressed to keep current with the research advances in recent years. It proposes periodic competency evaluations to ensure physicians keep their knowledge up-to-date.

The drastic changes listed in the report, however, may actually be greatly reduced if implemented at the UI. Christopher Cooper, the associate dean of the Carver College of Medicine, said many of the proposed competencies are already basic and integral parts of medical-school curricula, including that of the UI school.

Before the report was issued, the medical school had conducted a self-study of its course curriculum over the past year and half. In October, an accrediting body will visit the college and a further review of the curriculum may then take place, Cooper said.

“We will look at some of the ideas and some areas which are not covered,” he said. “But I don’t foresee any drastic changes.”

What the competencies may afford medical-school students, however, is added flexibility, freedom, and individualization in choosing courses.

“[Students] may not have to take a [specific] biochemistry course,” Cooper said. “But rather satisfy the biochemistry competency requirement.”

Certainly, some challenges are present in implementing the new system. While the competencies are designed to ensure that learning does not take place in a vacuum, that may be difficult to test in practice.

“It’s one thing to say physicians have to be competent at X, Y, Z,” Cooper said. “But how do you assess it?”

Second year medical student Daniel Fox, 23, also said he wasn’t certain how accurately the competencies may actually be evaluated.

“It comes from a good place,” Fox said. “But it’s difficult to assess. It’s a rough idea.”


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