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The first year of medical education integrates scientific principles into clinical presentations and health system contexts. Structured classroom and small group time is limited to fewer than 20 hours per week, giving students flexibility for self-directed study. Routine feedback helps them gauge their depth of understanding, and a pass/fail grading system encourages collaboration.

Students engage in problem-based learning throughout the first year using an activity called PILLARS: professionalism, inquiry, learning and leadership through active reasoning and synthesis. In PILLARS, students review cases weekly in small teams of six to eight and collaborate to identify the science underlying the patient’s disease. Then, they research the patient’s condition in self-directed time to address their own questions before rejoining the group to discuss findings.

During large-group interactive sessions, all students interact and apply knowledge together in new frameworks. This is a particularly effective way for them to not only learn scientific content, but to also develop critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills. Most of the courses below incorporate both PILLARS and interactive sessions.

Courses & Details

In Cells to Populations, students investigate case-based clinical manifestations of human disease by integrating the disciplines of genetics, biochemistry and cell biology; normal cell structure and function; and physiology and pharmacology. Unlike traditional medical school courses in these disciplines, the Dell Med approach uses the lens of disease development including psychosocial and population-based effects. Congenital, hematological and oncological diseases receive a particular focus. Half of the coursework takes place in PILLARS case exploration and half occurs in full cohort sessions guided by faculty experts.

In Medical Neuroscience, students explore the anatomy, physiology, development and pharmacology of the nervous system in both health and disease. Faculty introduce students to clinically relevant topics in human behavior and integrate knowledge acquired in the earlier Cells to Populations course. One particular learning focus involves clinically relevant external and internal structures and circuits in the brain and spinal cord. Related topics include stroke, movement disorders, pain, special senses, neurodegenerative disorders, epilepsy, language, memory, consciousness, reward and motivation. In addition, several sessions cover specific aspects of neuropharmacology.

In the Structure and Function course, students learn about the anatomy and physiology 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. Pharmacology as a corollary to physiology is also explored. The emphasis in this course is on wellness and normal structure and function, but students also examine the mechanistic disruptions that cause illness as well as the scientific rationale for methods to diagnose and treat selected diseases.

The course includes weekly laboratory sessions that examine anatomy and physiology of the body simultaneously. Stations in the cadaver lab include prosection, dissection, digital histology, radiographic imaging, ultrasound and 3-D anatomical activities using multiple tools such as Sectra technology. Students even examine their own physiological function and design physiological experiments using human subjects.

Foundations of Disease is an integrated first-year course that weaves together medical microbiology, immunology, medical pharmacology and clinical infectious disease. The course provides a solid knowledge base for tackling advanced topics in pathophysiology that come up later in medical school. At Dell Med, instructors focus cases and sessions on high-yield diseases. They also emphasize strategies to independently master other related diseases and disorders.

This integrated course introduces the practice of fundamental clinical medicine in the context of underlying associated pathophysiology and basic science. The integration of the pathophysiology and clinical presentations is organized by medical systems: cardiology, pulmonology, nephrology, gastroenterology, hematology, endocrinology, dermatology, psychiatry, reproductive health, oncology, neurology and musculoskeletal medicine. Mechanisms of Disease covers common, classic and meaningful presentations across clinical practice. Cases and related discussions focus on teaching foundational science and pathophysiologic substrates while promoting the development of critical thinking, diagnostic reasoning and an understanding of best practices.

The Interprofessional Education Integrated Curriculum supports the school’s vision to produce physicians who are prepared for interprofessional collaborative practice. The longitudinal curriculum immerses learners in interprofessional inquiry, application and leadership to yield measurable impact and outcomes. The learning activities are guided by nationally developed core competencies in the areas of values and ethics for interprofessional practice, roles and responsibilities, interprofessional communication, and teams and teamwork. Medical students learn and work with interprofessional students from social work, nursing and pharmacy — among others.

In the first year, Foundations in Interprofessional Collaborative Practice introduces learners to the skills needed to effectively collaborate with professionals in the care of our community’s patients and their families. Through hands-on experiences in small group sessions, Dell Med students come together every third Friday with students from social work, nursing and pharmacy to explore opportunities and challenges of effective teamwork. Faculty members from these disciplines facilitate the experiences that take place in the community and through team simulations. During the course, students gain a better understanding of the local community and its health needs.

Students participate in DOCS throughout all four years of medical school in groups of five with one faculty mentor. Each team is assigned a small group room in the Health Learning Building that serves as a home base for convening. Through DOCS, students learn the physical diagnosis and clinical skills needed to become a knowledgeable, skillful and compassionate physician capable of excelling on a continuously changing health care system. Mentors are experienced practitioners with a wealth of professional experiences.

In the first year, students learn how to take a medical history and conduct a physical examination of a variety of patients with different conditions. In the second, third and fourth years, students study advanced communications, medical humanities, ethics and law, and social determinants of health and wellness. Learning skills in these key areas enhances the clinical adeptness of Dell Med students.

This longitudinal course creates a solid foundation in leadership by exposing learners to effective leadership approaches, skills and application exercises. Topics include leadership assessment (self and other), fundamentals, philosophy, skills, practices and behaviors. A rich health systems science curriculum is taught in year two. In year three, students apply their leadership skills to their individual projects and community engagement activities. In year four, students apply their skills within the medical environment through individualized experiences selected from a collection of opportunities.