No content without context: Integrating basic, clinical, and social sciences in a pre-clerkship curriculum
Background: The basic science curricula in medical schools ultimately succeed or fail at the bedside when students must draw on their pre-clerkship experiences as they learn to form nuanced clinical decisions. Given this expectation, learning context becomes as decisive as content in determining students? recall and application. Aims: Using the pre-clerkship medical curriculum at the University of California, Los Angeles, as an example, we illustrate how traditional biomedical sciences can be integrated with clinical sciences in a comprehensive foundational curriculum following curricular design features and teaching methods based on learning principles from cognitive psychology and education. Methods: Multiple planning teams of faculty and students collaborated in the design of the Human Biology and Disease (HB&D) curriculum. Broad participation, careful selection of course chairs, the assistance of educational consultants, ongoing oversight structures, and faculty development were used to develop and sustain the curriculum. Results: The resulting HB&D curriculum features an interdisciplinary spiral block structure including interactive lecture formats, integrative formative and summative examinations, self- and peer-taught laboratories, and problem-based learning with innovative variations. Conclusion: Our fully integrated, spiral, pre-clerkship curriculum built on repeating interdisciplinary blocks and longitudinal threads has yielded encouraging results as well as some specific innovations that other schools or individual teachers may find valuable to adapt for use in their own settings.