Year 1 Curriculum – Essentials


During the Essentials Year, the curriculum focus is on integrating scientific principles into clinical presentations and health system contexts. Team-oriented care delivery is the future of healthcare, and our curriculum models this approach. Our students will learn in small group, team-based environments during case-based learning, clinical skills and interprofessional education. Large group learning will be interactive and push students to apply knowledge in new frameworks. This is a particularly effective way for students to not only learn scientific content, but to also develop clinical reasoning skills.

Our student-centered educational approach limits structured classroom time to less than 20 hours a week and routine feedback helps students gauge their depth of understanding of the scientific content. A Pass/Fail grading system encourages collaboration and learning together in the integrated curriculum.

Course Descriptions:

 Molecules and Cells

Course Director: Andrew Bergemann

Molecules and Cells is the first course of the Foundations year. The course integrates the disciplines of Genetics, Biochemistry and Cell Biology, and in addition includes the student’s initial experiences in physiology and pharmacology. Unlike traditional medical school courses in these disciplines, the course teaches these disciplines through the lens of the pathogenesis of diseases, in particular congenital, hematological, and oncological diseases. Half of the learning in the course is in our case-based learning program, PILLARS (Professionalism, Inquiry, Learning and Leadership through Active Reasoning and Synthesis). In PILLARS, students meet at the beginning of each week in groups of seven to review cases. Each of these PILLARS cases are narratives of a patient’s history. The students collaborate with each other in their group to identify the important underlying science behind the patient’s disease. The students then research the patient’s condition during self-directed learning time, before rejoining their group to discuss everything they have learnt later in the week. The other half of the learning in Molecules and Cells is in interactive large group sessions, guided by faculty with content expertise in the relevant discipline. These large group sessions use a range of teaching approaches, including audience-response systems and group discussions, to provide a framework for student-learning in the PILLARS cases.

Why did I join the Dell Medical School Team? (Andrew Bergemann)

I am drawn to working at Dell Medical School through a firm belief in both the need for, and the real possibility of, improvements in healthcare delivery in this country. I believe as course director of Molecules and Cells, helping our future doctors to think about the underlying science as they work at the bedside, I can play my own small but important part in this process.

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 Structure and Function

Course Directors: Dee Silverthorn and Brian Miller

Structure and Function (S&F) is the second course of the Foundations year. Students will explore the structure and function of the human body at all levels of organization, from molecular and cellular to the integrated function of multiple organ systems attempting to maintain homeostasis. The emphasis in this course is on wellness and normal structure/function, but students will also examine the mechanistic disruptions that cause illness as well as the scientific rationale for methods to diagnose and treat selected diseases. The S&F course combines small group work in the PILLARS cases, interactive large group sessions, and weekly laboratory sessions that examine anatomy and physiology of the body simultaneously. Stations in the cadaver lab include prosection and dissection as well as digital histology, radiographic imaging, ultrasound, and activities utilizing 3-dimensional anatomy viewed on a Sectra table. Stations in the multipurpose lab provide students an opportunity to examine their own physiological function as well as design physiological experiments using human subjects.

Why did I join the Dell Medical School Team? (Dee Silverthorn)

After many years teaching physiology to pre-health professions students, I accepted the invitation to join Dell Medical School because I saw an opportunity to help create a new model for medical education. DMS’s educational model is moving from faculty-centric lectures to interactive classrooms that challenge students to use their analytical and problem-solving skills. The Dell Med model brings together basic scientists, clinicians, and students in interactive settings from day 1 of the medical curriculum, weaving together the scientific basis of medicine with humanistic concerns and the day-to-day reality of practicing medicine within the American healthcare system.

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 Brain and Behavior

Course Director: Brian Miller
Co-Director: Sonia Krishna

Brain & Behavior (B&B) is the third course of the Foundations year. In this course, students will explore the anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology of the nervous system in both health and disease. In doing so, they will review material and integrate knowledge acquired in the earlier Molecules & Cells and Structure & Function courses. One particular focus of the B&B course will be the study of the clinically relevant internal structures and circuits in the brain and spinal cord. Other course topics include movement disorders, stroke, language, memory, consciousness and substance abuse. By exploring these and related fundamental topics, students will gain an understanding of how specific components of the nervous system give rise to distinctive human behaviors and how pathological change in the nervous system contributes to neurological and psychiatric disorders. Both basic scientists and clinicians will be involved in leading Large Group Interactive sessions, case-based PILLARS discussions and laboratory exercises in the B&B course.

Why did I join the Dell Medical School Team? (Brian Miller)

My interest in joining the teaching faculty at Dell Medical School arose from the recognition that this school has a particularly high level of commitment to medical education at all levels. Accordingly, the administrative leaders of the school have gathered together basic scientists and clinicians who possess both significant experience in medical education and a drive to improve and enhance the educational process through continuous exploration and innovation.

Why did I join the Dell Medical School Team? (Sonia Krishna)

Brand-new medical school at a top tier university + innovative curriculum by dynamic faculty for remarkable students + integration and alignment within a diverse community = NO-BRAINER! :)

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 Foundations of Disease

Course Director: Michael Lee

The Foundations of Disease (FOD) course is an integrated course that weaves together medical microbiology, immunology, medical pharmacology and clinical infectious disease. Our goal is to provide a solid knowledge base for tackling advanced topics in pathophysiology encountered later in the curriculum and clerkships. As with other first year courses at Dell Medical School, FOD utilizes a number of learning strategies including the self-directed PILLARS cases, pre-class activities, in-class cases, interactive lectures, lab stations, and other active learning modalities. A key difference between FOD and similar courses at other medical schools is that instead of covering every bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic and immune disease, we focus our cases and sessions on high-yield diseases and emphasize strategies to independently master other, related diseases and disorders.

Why did I join the Dell Medical School Team? (Michael Lee)

I was attracted to Dell Medical School because I saw the opportunity to continue my evolution as an educator that began 16 years ago as a graduate student progressing to my most recent experience as a founding faculty member at the University Of Central Florida College Of Medicine. A central goal of mine is to optimize the process of learning pharmacology using both active learning and independent learning based activities to promote long-term retention.

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 Mechanisms of Disease (MOD)

Course Directors: Clarissa Johnston and Alan Rampy

Mechanisms of Disease (MOD) is the last course of the first year Dell Medical School curriculum, and serves as a capstone platform, wherein students are given the opportunity to demonstrate integrated knowledge and growth across the essentials of medical basic sciences. Starting from this fundamental notion, MOD adds new dimensions with focus on the pathologic basis of disease, further development of clinical diagnostic skills, all presented within the context of the clinical practice of medicine. The self-directed PILLARS case series will continue, with more emphasis on pathophysiology and clinical decision making. The largest element of MOD is the continuation of Large Group Interactive learning sessions, presented as in-class clinical case study, interactive lectures and many other active learning modalities, and delivered primarily by our Clinical Faculty across disciplines of Cardiology, Pulmonology, Renal, Gastroenterology, Hematology, Endocrinology, Dermatology, Psychiatry, Reproductive Medicine and Gynecology, Oncology, Musculoskeletal Medicine and Neurology. As in previous courses, team teaching will also continue in MOD, wherein Basic Science Core Faculty will share scientific essentials that underlie disease across the medical disciplines. This overall transition to clinically based reasoning as it is applied to discussions of pathogenesis and pathophysiology should serve as meaningful grounding as students move to their new roles in clerkships of the second year.

Why did I join the Dell Medical School Team? (Alan Rampy)

I first learned of the possibility of a new UT Medical School in Austin almost three years ago. It sounded interesting, yet I only casually watched development on the sidelines, as I was already a long-time member of another UT medical campus. When the team and Dell Medical School began to grow, and I learned more about the community-based cultural commitments and the truly innovative designs on medical education, I decided that the opportunity to join this meaningful dynamic endeavor was one that should not be passed up. I look forward to contributing my part to this new model for medical education and the success of our future physician leaders.

Why I joined the Dell Medical School Team? (Clarissa Johnston)

I am excited about being part of a collaborative, innovative medical education team at DMS. I have already learned so much from my colleagues here and I look forward to working with and learning from our incoming medical students. As a long time intern medicine/hospitalist and palliative care doctor, I have been impressed by the commitment of DMS to caring for our community, especially the more vulnerable and underserved.

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 Foundations in Interprofessional Collaborative Practice

Medical School Director: John Luk
Nursing Director: Gayle Timmerman
Social Work Director: Barbara Jones
Pharmacy Director: Veronica Young

Foundations in Interprofessional Collaborative Practice introduces learners to the important skills needed to have effective collaboration among professionals in the care of our community’s patients and their families. This course takes place every third Friday afternoon over the fall and spring semesters and is book-ended by fun kickoff and closing semester sessions at which all learners and facilitators participate. Through hands-on team experiences in small group sessions, students from medicine, social work, nursing, and pharmacy will explore the opportunities and challenges of effective teamwork. Their exploration is supported by pharmacy, nursing, social work, and medicine faculty members who serve as team facilitators. Student teams gain a better understanding of our community and its health needs in the fall semester community experience. In the spring semester, learners have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in a team simulation.

Why did I join the Dell Medical School Team? (John Luk)

Joining Dell Medical School has offered me an once-in-a-lifetime path to translate my passion in promoting successful teamwork and professionalism into learning experiences that prepare future physicians for the changing face of healthcare delivery. My practice as a Pediatric Hospitalist at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas relies heavily on my collaboration and communication with colleagues from across the various health professions, learners, and, most importantly, my patients and their families. I am honored and excited by the opportunity and privilege to be working and learning with our colleagues and students on campus and in our community!

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 Developing Outstanding Clinical Skills (DOCS)

Course Director: Alejandro Moreno

DOCS is the 4-year longitudinal course that teaches the physical diagnosis and clinical skills needed to become a knowledgeable, skillful, and compassionate physician capable of excelling on a continuously changing healthcare system. The focus of the first year is to teach the history taking and physical examination of patients from different ages, backgrounds and affected by a variety of conditions. The focus of the second, third and fourth year is to teach key areas, such as advanced communications, medical humanities, ethics and law, social determinants of health, and wellness that solidify the clinical skills of our future medical graduates. To achieve these goals, ten experienced mentors with a vast wealth of personal and professional experiences will oversee the educational activities throughout the four years of the curriculum in small groups of five students each.

Students work in same team of five medical students and one mentor over the four years of medical school to achieve the course goals but to also to facilitate a longitudinal team experience. Each team has an assigned small group room on the third floor of the Health Learning Building that serves as home base throughout the four years.

Why did I join the Dell Medical School Team? (Alejandro Moreno)

Being part of a new medical school is always a special professional experience. Being part of a new medical school that aims at revolutionizing not only the way medical students are taught, but also the role medical schools traditionally play in the community is just a once in a life opportunity. It also allows me to expand and complement years of educational experience at the post-graduate level and to take my interest in law, public health and vulnerable populations a step farther.

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