Newswise — EAST LANSING, Mich. — After just 12 weeks of introducing a new medical curriculum to its incoming College of Human Medicine students, Michigan State University is finding that these future physicians are already ahead of the game in their academic and clinical skills.

“Students even at seven weeks were already clinically performing essentially at the level of students who were at the end of their first year in the previous curriculum,” said Aron Sousa, senior associate dean for academic affairs for the medical college. “It’s the experiential learning aspect of the program that’s making this happen.”

The data shows that students are grasping the content they’re learning about 50 percent faster and scoring better on progress tests that are similar to board exams.

The results could be a good sign that in the future, students could finish their medical education sooner and save money.

“Typically students after a full first year of medical school score about a 45 on average on these tests, yet our students now are already scoring a 41 and they’ve only just finished the first semester,” Sousa said.

Sousa added that the college uses these progress tests in order to predict the passage rate on the actual board exams students take. By the end of the second year of medical school, students should be scoring in the high 60s to help determine whether they can pass the first exam.

Although the data is still relatively early, Sousa said the possibility of students starting their residencies sooner and saving money in the end is conceivable.

“Eventually, we would have students move through the curriculum faster, or more likely come in with advanced status, but we don’t have enough data to do this safely yet,” Sousa said. “Ultimately though, the financial implication of going faster or coming in as an advanced student would be paying less tuition.”

The Shared Discovery Curriculum has been several years in the making and is considered a competency-based medical curriculum, one of the few in the nation built from scratch. This type of education focuses more on learning through clinical experiences beginning in the first 10 weeks of medical school. The learning environment is more similar to clinical rotations conducted later in medical school or in residency than the courses of a traditional medical school curriculum.

“Most universities have tacked on competency-based methods to their original curriculums,” Sousa said. “We’ve created an entirely new curriculum that’s organized around patient concerns that gives students experiences centered on the individual, something that is central to our teaching process.”

Reversing the way medical school has typically been taught, the content and objectives of the curriculum are driven primarily by reasons people would seek medical attention rather than scientific disciplines. The students learn about anatomy and systems of the body related to patient concerns rather than the other way round.

These chief complaints and concerns are integrated into the student’s entire clinical experience. For example, during the early phase, as students learn to take vital signs, they learn the necessary science behind blood pressure regulation, how the body creates a fever and how the respiratory system works. As they conduct pain scores or do diabetic foot exams, they learn about neural pathways for pain, vascular structures in the body and the complications of high blood sugar.

Another essential component of the program is a curriculum-tracking tool, developed by an MSU physician, that students and faculty use every day to help guide them through courses, but also help them evaluate individual performance.

Some of the criticism around competency-based education is that not all students can excel in a self-study setting.

The Just in Time Medicine communication tool assesses students in any type of environment and offers real-time specific feedback from professors and students, putting them directly in touch with one another. So far, 92 percent of students have found this tool to be effective in helping them learn in a self-guided environment.

“We have a lot of satisfaction data from this semester from our 190 students, and we are using this data to improve where needed and further evaluate our successes,” Sousa said.


Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.