Culmination of the 2016-17 academic year allows time for reflection and planning for the next year. This past academic year, I was involved in the delivery of a new medical curriculum to an inaugural class of osteopathic medical students. In keeping with current medical education trends, physiology and all other basic sciences were integrated throughout the year in individual systems based courses. It is against this backdrop that I have decided to share a few observations and offer a few suggestions on delivering physiology content in a completely integrated teaching environment.
- Delivery of an integrated curriculum is very time intensive for faculty. The idea of incorporating the teaching of anatomy, biochemistry, cell biology, physiology and microbiology/immunology of an organ system in a single course is conceptually attractive and to many medical practitioners the best way to educate the next generation of physicians. Curricular challenges center on time limitations and the blurring of boundaries between the basic science disciplines. Successful courses result when faculty are able to connect relevant information. For example, my preparation for classroom discussions involved gaining an awareness of what was being taught in other disciplines and to incorporate appropriate synergies with the teaching materials developed by my colleagues in other disciplines. The challenge was not to re-teach material.
- Learning for the majority of students is not integrative. The development and delivery of an interdisciplinary integrated curriculum does not instantly result in students who are higher order problem solvers. Learning is sequential, iterative, and cumulative. Integration of concepts takes time and a firm foundation. Guiding students along towards higher learning dimensions requires careful planning on behalf of the educator and can be accomplished through various pedagogical approaches. Central to any approach should be basic questions for the educator to consider such as: 1) What is/are the basic fact(s) that the student should know? 2) Why does the student need to know this particular material? and 3) How will the particular material be used in the problem solving process? The answers to these and similar questions should then be used to introduce material in the classroom environment that keeps study groups discussing content after the session ends.
- The true effectiveness of an integrated systems based curriculum should be measured by assessments that include questions designed specifically to high levels of integration. Data from both multidisciplinary and comprehensive formative as well as summative assessment instruments will provide a basis for future curricular decisions.
In the preceding discourse I have attempted to share a few views based on a year long teaching experience in a systems based medical curriculum. My overall impression is that an integrated curriculum is a great way to teach physiology. I also have learned that I am at the beginning of a new teaching journey that is sequential, iterative, and cumulative. Sound familiar? In preparation for next year, I know what I will be doing this summer to refine my previous year’s work in ways that facilitate student learning next year. I am sure that I am not alone and wish you the best for a productive summer.