NASHVILLE, TN — Meharry’s School of Medicine is taking the bold step to overhaul its curriculum, a move that will better prepare students for health care in the digital age by introducing new teaching strategies such as earlier clinical immersion and “flipped” classrooms.

Dr. Veronica Mallett, Senior Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean of the Meharry School of Medicine, said because of rapid medical advances and changes in how students learn, Meharry must transition to an active-learning model that prepares students to be critical-thinkers who can easily adapt to future innovations.

“The proposed curriculum changes will ensure our learners receive quality health care education today and prepare them to become health care providers of tomorrow,” Dr. Mallett said. “This overhaul is an enormous task, but one that must be done to maintain the integrity and value of our medical education here at Meharry.”

The new curriculum is set to begin in fall 2018 with the students in the Class of 2022. Current students will continue the current curriculum until it is phased out in 2021.

Hallmarks of the new curriculum include decreasing the number of lectures and replacing them with active-learning strategies such as team-based teaching and flipped classrooms.

In the flipped classroom, students receive the lecture part of a class on their own time, at their own pace (such as online, through videos, audio recordings, readings, or exercises). Students spend their class time working in small groups to apply what they have learned.

“It’s not that we are teaching new information, but the difference is students will now have to demonstrate to us that they have learned the lessons,” said Larry Alexander, Ph.D., who is one of the faculty members on the Ad Hoc Curriculum Committee, the group charged with developing and implementing the new curriculum.

“This is a new way of teaching our medical students because medical students today do not learn as we did years ago,” Dr. Alexander said.

Meharry’s curriculum was last updated in 2004.

The new curriculum is built around a clinical scheme and focuses on the 120 most common clinical problems encountered by physicians, Dr. Alexander said.

The first lesson starts with the “child with dehydration.”

From this one “problem” students will learn physiology, anatomy, genetics, cell and molecular biology, and a host of medical subjects; all while relating the information back to the original problem.

“When you think about the information that a physician has to know to make a diagnosis, that’s a lot of information,” Dr. Alexander said. “It’s a puzzle where we take all of the pieces and break them apart and bring them together again to assess the complete picture.”

Dr. Digna Forbes, who heads the Curriculum Committee, said faculty members will be given faculty development workshops to begin training on how to teach the new curriculum, and they will have to come up with creative new ideas and methods to teach their students.

Dr. Forbes, for example, said she might use a video to illustrate what she wants students to learn from a topic and then the students could have an activity to demonstrate what they have learned.

“We have to get away from the stadium-type lecture halls,” Dr. Forbes said. “It’s not conducive to collaboration among the students.”

Classes begin June 18, 2018.

“The Dean’s mission from day one was changing the curriculum,” Dr. Forbes said. “The new curriculum will bring all of the critical pieces together in a way that will help students better understand the big picture. This will allow them to develop the ‘sixth sense’ that physicians have, and help them to merge the art and science of medicine.”