Moving Toward a Modern, Student-Centered Curriculum

Faculty Reflection by Mary A. Furlong, MD

Reform and renewal are common words in the vocabulary of anyone in academics and higher education. To reform is to change to a better state; to renew is to make new, to revive, and to make effective. As a faculty member at the School of Medicine for many years, I have already been through one major curriculum reform. So when approached with the idea of yet another, the first question many of my fellow faculty members and I had was "Why?"

The reasons are many. In our technologically advanced world, the rate at which new knowledge is generated in medicine and science is beyond what we can teach in the classroom. Our goal must be not only to provide a foundation in medical science but also to provide a foundation for our students to become critical thinkers. Our curriculum must be student-centered and flexible, while actively engaging the learner.

Early in the process, we intentionally sought consensus around key guiding principles: individualization, curiosity, and collaboration. Together we developed an aspiration for our reform and renewal: to unify the overarching academic standards of excellence with the underlying principles of justice and care of the whole person in order to prepare our students to excel and contribute meaningfully to society.

The predictable stages of reaction to change include opposition, resistance, tolerance, acceptance, support, and enthusiastic engagement. Recognition of this process is important as faculty and students work together to move toward our common goal. As faculty, we reflect on concepts and our approach, and view ourselves as partners in the learning process. We ask the students to also consider themselves integral to the process, to take ownership of their education, to make decisions, and to actively engage in reflection.

Our new curriculum will offer students increased choice and flexibility. Combining our preclinical education into a more cohesive and integrated framework will provide time for students to pursue areas of interest following the clinical years. The proposed timeline includes approximately 18 months of foundational science, then early entry into clinical rotations followed by deep dives back to basic science. Students will choose areas of basic science that will enhance their specialty of choice. In addition, the curriculum allows time for students to complete independent scholarly projects. Proposals have been made to allow for more time in the traditional clerkship year for several two-week experiences in medical specialty areas such as dermatology, pathology, and rehabilitation medicine. Engaging students to make decisions early regarding their education is a progressive move toward a more student-centered curriculum.

The process of change that began nearly a year ago has been a positive one. We started by forming a steering committee and followed that with a community retreat. Soon we had thoughtful and detailed reports on a workable timeline and active pedagogical methods to implement a renewed curriculum. Our current effort will move us into the next exciting phase: determining the foundational content with emphasis on core concepts, clinical application, and self-directed learning. Fundamental to our charge will be the formation of empathetic, socially aware, and reflective physicians who will make a difference in their practice of medicine.

So it is with enthusiastic engagement that we embrace the challenge of curriculum reform and renewal at Georgetown University School of Medicine. We look forward to the journey ahead of us as we establish a modern, student-centered education that is in keeping with our Jesuit mission of leadership and service.