July 26, 2012

School of Medicine debuts new model for medical learning

This summer, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine students began implementing a new, innovative, four-year education model called Curriculum 2.0.

Bonnie Miller, M.D., said the drive to innovate medical education led to the creation of Curriculum 2.0. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

This summer, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine students began implementing a new, innovative, four-year education model called Curriculum 2.0.

The curriculum is a deeply integrated system of coursework requiring flexibility and teamwork on the part of faculty, allowing students greater influence over their learning. The hope is the new curriculum will prove to be a national model for training physicians who are not only prepared to keep up with the rapid changes in health care, but will exact their influence to change it for the better.

“Today, the delivery of health care is vastly different than it was even a decade ago,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “The rate of scientific discovery and the accumulation of knowledge are accelerating so rapidly that in order for our students to continue to be tomorrow’s leaders, we feel this curriculum change is necessary. What our faculty and administrators have created together with the students may very well set a new standard for teaching and learning for other medical schools to follow.”

VUSM leadership began preparing for Curriculum 2.0 in 2004. The Class of 2011 experienced the first components of the re-design, removing a departmental approach toward teaching first- and second-year courses and structuring learning into team-taught block courses. Students were actively engaged in the process of continually assessing these changes and even helped design new courses.

The first phase was ultimately a success, drawing praise from students and faculty alike. Bonnie Miller, M.D., senior associate dean for Health Sciences Education, said that success has changed the culture of VUSM, breaking down silos and creating a drive for further innovation from faculty.

“None of this would be possible without the willingness of our faculty to adapt to these changes,” Miller said. “Now we are ready to take the next step to further integrate learning in a curriculum that is agile and better equipped to meet the needs of our students. The traditional curriculum was no longer consistent with how people use science to provide up-to-date medical care. It was time for us to incorporate new research and concepts about how people learn and how they apply what they learn.”

Miller said one goal is to introduce students to an engaging and dynamic system of lifelong learning. Curriculum 2.0 offers an agile curriculum that can be shaped by the students themselves.

Students will track the basic competencies each needs to master, but those who need or want to focus on an area of either strength or weakness will be able to do so. By students’ third and fourth years, they will have the opportunity to create their own highly personalized education plans that take them beyond competencies and into skill development to allow them to take on research or leadership roles later in their practice.

The integration of biomedical science, social sciences, humanities and clinical practice is meant to better reflect the reality of health care delivery today. That, combined with Vanderbilt’s provision of real-time experiences, like the Interprofessional Fellowship, and first- and second-year volunteering at the student-run Shade Tree Clinic, creates a broad base of knowledge on which to build.

“Curriculum 2.0 is designed to offer a new model of learning, moving away from memorization of facts and toward critical thinking, which enables our students to address the continually increasing pace of scientific discovery and changes occurring in the delivery of health care,” Balser said.

“The new curriculum allows for greater adaptation into a system that is increasingly more reliant on teamwork and the need for continuous learning.”

Kim Lomis, M.D., associate professor of Surgery and associate dean for Undergraduate Medical Education, is charged with the smooth implementation of the new curriculum.

“Last year, students volunteered to take some pilot courses. We have a rigorous evaluation process with students, instructors and faculty as they test out the new curriculum. When implementation is complete, the real difference will be that clinical, scientific and humanities learning will take place in the workplace throughout all four years,” Lomis said.

Curriculum 2.0’s mission is to:

• Embrace innovation and improvement

• Create the ability for students to rapidly translate discovery into practice

• Support professional growth of both teachers and learners, and

• Create physician leaders

The implementation of Curriculum 2.0 will take place in stages. For the class matriculating in 2012, there will be a year and a half of didactic block coursework, rather than two. There will be two months of overlap with the previous year’s class as clinical clerkships are gradually backed up.

The class entering in 2013 will experience the full curriculum change, which will shift the core clinical clerkships fully into the second year.