Description and Early Outcomes of a Comprehensive Curriculum Redesign at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

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Abstract

In 2012, the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine launched a redesigned curriculum addressing the four primary recommendations in the 2010 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching report on reforming medical education. This new curriculum provides a more standardized evaluation of students’ competency achievement through a robust portfolio review process coupled with standard evaluations of medical knowledge and clinical skills. It individualizes learning processes through curriculum flexibility, enabling students to take electives earlier and complete clerkships in their preferred order. The new curriculum is integrated both horizontally and vertically, combining disciplines within organ-based modules and deliberately linking elements (science in medicine, clinical medicine, health and society, professional development) and threads (medical decision making, quality and safety, teamwork and leadership, lifestyle medicine, advocacy and equity) across the three phases that replaced the traditional four-year timeline. It encourages students to conduct research in an area of interest and commit to lifelong learning and self-improvement. The curriculum formalizes the process of professional identity formation and requires students to reflect on their experiences with the informal and hidden curricula, which strongly shape their identities.

The authors describe the new curriculum structure, explain their approach to each Carnegie report recommendation, describe early outcomes and challenges, and propose areas for further work. Early data from the first cohort to progress through the curriculum show unchanged United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 and 2 scores, enhanced student research engagement and career exploration, and improved student confidence in the patient care and professional development domains.

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