Prescription for Medical Education


In the coming year, Duke's medical school will institute significant curriculum changes to better prepare its graduates to cope with the rapid advances in medical science and to address such major issues as emerging diseases, the obesity epidemic, and economic pressures in health care.

The new curriculum, planned over the past five years, will include changes such as integrating courses by topic instead of discipline, to reflect the blurred boundaries between basic and clinical sciences such as cell biology and genetics, says medical school dean R. Sanders Williams M.D. '74. The curriculum will emphasize teaching students about technological advances that may improve health care, such as personal digital assistants. Students will learn how to evaluate advances in technology and independently access information that will enhance the learning experience, he says.

The gold standard four-year medical school curriculum--with one year of basic science, one clinical year, one research year, and then one final clinical year--has been retained. However, the basic first-year science courses will now focus on three overarching topics: molecules and cells, the healthy body, and the body and disease. The second and fourth years--when students have direct contact with patients--have been modified so that students' mastery of knowledge does not come solely through traditional apprenticeship on the wards. Fourth-year students will be required to take a "capstone" course, designed to bring them up to date on the latest in scientific research, health systems, and the economics of health care.

Another new course offered to students in the fourth year will cover the underlying causes of obesity and various treatment options, including surgery. Duke is one of the first medical schools in the country to develop a multidisciplinary course, "Clinical Management of Obesity," on this topic.

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