Advanced Integrated Science Courses: Building a Skill Set to Engage With the Interface of Research and Medicine

Acad Med. 2022 Feb 1. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004612. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Scientific research has been changing medical practice at an increasing pace. To keep up with this change, physicians of the future will need to be lifelong learners with the skills to engage with emerging science and translate it into clinical care. How medical schools can best prepare students for ongoing scientific change remains unclear. Adding to the challenge is reduced time allocated to basic science in curricula and rapid expansion of relevant scientific fields. A return to science with greater depth after clinical clerkships has been suggested, although few schools have adopted such curricula and implementation can present challenges. The authors describe an innovation at Harvard Medical School, the Advanced Integrated Science Courses (AISCs), which are taken after core clerkships. Students are required to take 2 such courses, which are offered in a variety of topics. Rather than factual content, the learning objectives are a set of generalizable skills to enable students to critically evaluate emerging research and its relationship to medical practice. Making these generalizable skills the defining principle of the courses has several important advantages: it allows standardization of acquired skills to be combined with diverse course topics ranging from basic to translational and population sciences; students can choose courses and projects aligned with their interests, thereby enhancing engagement, curiosity, and career relevance; schools can tailor course offerings to the interests of local faculty; and the generalizable skills delineate a unique purpose of these courses within the overall medical school curriculum. For the 3 years AISCs have been offered, students rated the courses highly and reported learning the intended skill set effectively. The AISC concept addresses the challenge of preparing students for this era of rapidly expanding science and should be readily adaptable to other medical schools.