UM Awarded Howard Hughes Medical Institute Experiment Grant

The Miller School and the College of Arts and Sciences are the recipients of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to design and assess an innovative, competency-based, pre-medical curriculum in response to the “Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians (SFFP)” report issued in 2009 by the American Association of Medical Colleges–Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Collaborators on the grant include Purdue University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and University of Maryland at College Park.

Miller School and UM College of Arts and Sciences faculty will create case studies that use clinical cases to teach basic science concepts covered by the eight competencies in the SFFP report, which integrate biological concepts with underlying principles of chemistry and physics, as well as with their medical practices and biomedical research.

Working in small groups, students will engage in patient scenarios using a question-based guide created by faculty to gain an understanding of the basic sciences behind diagnoses and treatment decisions and to foster critical thinking. The curriculum is designed to help undergraduates apply and integrate the basic science knowledge and skills to the clinical setting, both in medical school and as physicians.

“We look forward to collaborating with faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences in crafting new case-based modules that will allow students to learn core undergraduate science concepts in a clinical context,” said Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education, associate professor of medicine, and co-principal investigator on the grant. “This approach will allow students to go beyond the traditional learning of scientific facts and focus more on the application and integration of basic science knowledge.”

Michael Gaines, professor of biology and principal investigator on the grant, said the grant presents a challenging opportunity. “What makes this grant exciting and at the same time challenging, is the intramural collaboration between the Miller School and the College of Arts and Sciences and the extramural collaboration among four research intensive universities to transform the pre-medical curriculum,” he said. “It’s a real meeting of the minds of faculty from different disciplines and institutions committed to undergraduate curricula innovation.”

UM’s other three collaborators will develop competency-based curricula that focus on different aspects of the SFFP report. Purdue is focusing on the integration of biology into chemistry; University of Maryland, Baltimore County is introducing mathematical modeling into biology courses; and University of Maryland at College Park is redesigning the physics curriculum to integrate it with biology.

The case studies created by UM will be used as assessment instruments to measure learning gains based on competencies across all institutions. The ultimate goal is for the four institutions to adopt and adapt each other’s new curricula, converging it across the board.

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