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Stanford Report, October 22, 2003

Faculty Senate tackles curriculum reform evaluation


With the launch of the new medical curriculum last month, the School of Medicine has embarked on a major experiment in academia. But a nagging question remains: Will it really work?

The Faculty Senate aims to get to the heart of the issue with a plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the new curriculum program. The senate unanimously approved the framework for the plan at its Oct. 15 meeting.

"With major curriculum reform, we need a more stringent plan with measures to make sure the new curriculum is better than the old," Oscar Salvatierra, MD, professor of surgery and of pediatrics and the senate chair, told a group of some 40 faculty at the meeting. "We need to have ways to identify problems and correct them as we go along."

Pat Youngblood, PhD, research associate and an expert in instructional design and evaluation at SUMMIT, chaired a faculty/student task force that came up with methods for obtaining feedback on the curriculum. The task force recommended that the senate solicit student and faculty views and obtain data on student performance and residency directors’ ratings of Stanford graduates.

Other members of the taskforce include Terry Blaschke, MD, professor of medicine and of molecular pharmacology; James Ferrell, PhD, professor of molecular pharmacology and of biochemistry; and medical students Al Taira and Jenise Wong.

Their methods include creating a Web site where students could comment anonymously on their learning experiences. Small groups of students also would meet with course directors over lunch, both midway and at the end of a course, to provide constructive suggestions.

During the first clinical year, when students begin their clerkships, they would be asked on their evaluation forms whether their preclinical work in a given field helped prepare them adequately for their clinic experience in that specialty area.

Finally, when students graduate, they would undergo detailed exit interviews on the curriculum.

"This is the time when students will give us an honest assessment of their experience," Youngblood told the senate.

While students have always had some mechanisms for providing feedback on the curriculum, that hasn’t been true for faculty, Youngblood said. The curriculum evaluation team suggested a number of new mechanisms to obtain the faculty’s perspective on the new training program.

These include having course directors provide full reports on how each class worked and obtaining feedback from preceptors on how well they believe students are prepared for their clinical clerkships. Faculty members also would hold regular retreats, as often as quarterly in the first year, to discuss progress on the curriculum.

In addition to these subjective measures, Youngblood noted that there are a number of more objective yardsticks the school can use to assess student performance under the new program.

These include two new clinical exams that will be given at the end of each year in the Practice of Medicine course, the basic clinical skills series. The clinical faculty members’ ratings of student performance in the core clerkships also would be used more extensively to help identify possible gaps or weaknesses in the preclinical program, she said.

To gauge the effectiveness of the new scholarly concentration program, the school will track data on the number of scholarly works produced by preclinical students, the number of electives outside the required medical curriculum they take, the amount of externally funded research they do, the number of lectures and small group sessions in which they participate and the time they spend in scheduled class activities, Youngblood said.

Finally, once students finish medical school and move on to their residencies, the school will ask residency directors at other institutions to rate the new graduates.

Gabriel Garcia, MD, associate dean for admissions and associate professor of medicine, noted that it would be important to discern if Stanford is producing trainees who are truly making a contribution to society, as the new curriculum envisions.

The senate agreed to have the Committee on Courses and Curriculum come up with a more detailed plan for implementation of these evaluation measures and report back at a later date.

Passions pursued under revised medical curriculum (9/10/03)

Tours offer Faculty Senate new view of the medical center (4/10/02)