Objective: Over half of American medical schools are currently engaged in significant curricular reform. Traditionally, evaluation of the efficacy of educational changes has occurred well after the implementation of curricular reform, resulting in significant time elapsed before modification of goals and content can be accomplished. We were interested in establishing a process by which a new curriculum could be reviewed and refined before its actual introduction.
Description: The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine embarked upon a new curriculum for the class entering in September 2001. Two separate committees coordinated plans for curricular change. The Essential Core Steering Committee was responsible for the first two years of training, and the Integrated Clinical Steering Committee guided the development of the third-and fourth-year curriculum. Both groups operated under guidelines of curricular reform, established by the School's Committee on Curriculum and Educational Policy, that emphasized integration of basic, clinical, and social sciences; longitudinal inclusion of themes such as behavior, culture, and ethics; use of clinical cases in teaching; and inclusion of small-group and problem-based learning. In early 2001, the deans of education and curricular affairs appointed an ad hoc committee to examine the status of the first-year curriculum, which had been entirely reformulated into a series of new multidisciplinary block courses. This ad hoc committee was composed of students and clinical faculty members who had not been substantially involved in the detailed planning of the blocks. The charge to the committee was to critique the progress of individual courses, and the first year as a whole, in meeting the goals outlined above, and to make recommendations for improving the preparation of students for the clinical years. To accomplish these goals, the committee reviewed background planning documents; interviewed each course director using a standardized set of questions; and examined course schedules, cases, and detailed learning objectives for particular sessions. In July 2001, the committee reported back to the deans with specific recommendations for coordinating the block courses, and about the success in creating integration and the overall balance of topics students would learn. Specific recommendations included increasing the use of pediatric and geriatric cases across courses, creating a case database, developing explicit plans to relocate uncovered material in the four-year curriculum, and bolstering participation of clinical faculty during the first-year blocks. These recommendations were then presented to and endorsed by the Essential Core Steering Committee, which implemented an action plan prior to the September 2001 start date.
Discussion: This proactive approach to quality improvement added an evaluation point before the new curriculum was actually unveiled. The anticipatory planning process substantially aided the interdisciplinary developmental process, increased input into the first-year curriculum by clerkship directors, and identified problems that would have otherwise become apparent after implementation. We believe this model adds value to the curriculum planning process.