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Why Medical Education Matters

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Students working on a simulated patient

Photo: Christian Burke


By Jill Hagey, MS1

When I was comparing medical schools, I assumed that most medical school curricula would be basically the same, given the set amount of knowledge that everyone needs to gain during their four years. My decision to come to UCSF was based more on UCSF’s ability to innovate across many dimensions – it attracts dedicated physicians, researchers, and students who value new ideas and new ways to provide health to patients in the San Francisco community and beyond.

When I arrived on my first day of class, I was ready to learn a set of skills that would enable me to be a clinician, but I wasn’t prepared for the innovations around HOW that learning was going to take place. It was apparent from our first day of class just how much UCSF cares about medical education. Our lecturers aren’t just prominent researchers in their area of medicine, but many have also gained national recognition for their research on medical education. The curriculum is a never-ending work in progress – we’re trying a new series of “selectives” this year that help students to understand health systems at various clinics around San Francisco, from the Family Health Center at San Francisco General Hospital to the Cardiology Clinic at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus. 

Enter the Bridges curriculum. This past year, UCSF was one of 11 medical schools selected by the American Medical Association for a $1 million grant to completely overhaul their curriculum and ask challenging questions about HOW medical students are best trained. In discussions over the past months, the Bridges curriculum has begun to be formed on the idea of the “21st century physician” – not an autonomous physician who works alone, but rather a collaboratively expert physician who can work with a team to improve the health of patients and populations. With that, the outlook of the school has been changing from simply training medical students to integrating medical students into the full health system, so they will be able to make a more effective difference in patients’ lives. With the broken health care system that we’re inheriting, we need skills in quality improvement, systems-based practice and interprofessional education to truly provide the best health to our patients. 

While the Bridges curriculum won’t be fully implemented until 2015, we’re already starting to see the changes in UCSF’s teaching model. We have the advantage of learning from many different teaching styles – not just engaging in lectures and small groups, but using our simulation center, working with standardized patients, engaging in problem-based learning cases, and integrating into different health systems.

In our clerkship years, we’ll have the option to do traditional rotations, but we also have a variety of longitudinal programs like VALOR and MODEL that allow students to spend 6 months to a year at San Francisco General Hospital, UCSF’s Moffitt-Long Hospital, the VA or Kaiser Permanente – a fantastic opportunity for long-term integration into a specific health system. UCSF allows students to have the flexibility to pursue whatever path works best for them to achieve their goals, such as through the Program in Medical Education for the Urban Underserved (PRIME-US), the Joint Medical Program, the MSTP MD/PhD program, and the Pathways to Discovery programs. Along with the flexibility to follow our passions, UCSF ensures that the resources, mentorship, and career paths are available to help us achieve our goals.

Not only are these changes occurring, but students are intimately involved in what changes are happening and how they are happening. Many of us are involved in pilot programs that may turn into new curriculum pieces in Bridges, and students sit on various committees alongside the deans and faculty members charged with putting together this new innovative curriculum. As the school figures out exactly how to train this “21st century physician,” we are a part of the process – figuring out how different projects can be scaled up for 150 incoming students, giving our feedback from our health system learning experience, and talking about how we can get the most out of our four years of training at UCSF.

Because of these conversations, I have a much greater appreciation for the amount of work that goes into each distinct piece of our medical education. And I know that if I’m going to learn how to be a physician in this changing health care environment, and if I’m going to make a the greatest difference to my patients, there isn’t a better place that I could be than UCSF.



This article appeared originally on the student-created "Class of 2018" admissions blog