Curriculum Innovation: Training the Physician Leaders of the Future

Duke University School of Medicine’s Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program has launched the new Patient FIRST curriculum that provides a transformative learning experience for students.

The patient is at the center of learning Day 1.

Patient FIRST (Foundations, Immersion, Research, Service, Transformation) is designed to better prepare physicians of the future to address the evolving needs of patients and communities by teaching medical students how community health impacts individual health, and how to have effective conversations with patients from diverse backgrounds.



What Patient FIRST Focuses On

The M.D. Patient FIRST curriculum teaches biomedical sciences in the context of patient symptoms integrating differential diagnoses, clinical reasoning, and the social context of medicine into a holistic view of the patient's care. Barriers between the biomedical and clinical clerkship years are removed, with intentional vertical integration across the first two years.

The curriculum focuses on developing inquiry and life-long learning necessary for clinical practice. A dedicated research project during the third year—along with a longitudinal curriculum on leadership—equips students to continually advance change in patient care, biomedical science, medical education, health system transformation, and health-oriented public policy. M.D. graduates will become compassionate, highly competent physician leaders who put patients FIRST.

Guiding Principles

  • I​ntegration: within the biomedical sciences, between the biomedical sciences and the clinical sciences 

  • Iteration: providing multiple points of contact with the same content with increasing complexity to promote mastery learning 

  • Inclusion: promoting meaning, connection and community through addressing racism and health care disparities 

    Curriculum Innovation Planning By Year

    To be a physician, there are things you need to know (knowledge), things you will need to do (skills) and things you need to be (attitudes and character traits). The stage for the first year of medical school (MS1) year is set with a two-week clinical immersion course which introduces clinical skills and professional identity formation. Following that is Foundations of Patient Care, a single integrated course that blends biomedical and clinical sciences to prepare students for clinical practice. Woven throughout, students experience small group sessions with faculty focusing on clinical skills, cultural determinants of health, and leadership. 

    In March 2022, the Curriculum Committee approved the new PIONEER curriculum. The PIONEER curriculum was inspired by lessons learned from our excellent ​Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (LIC).  We learned the value of longitudinal ambulatory clinical experiences for our LIC students, as well as the values of a cohesive learning community and experiences in health systems science.  We wanted to bring these experiences to all our traditional students to provide for a more equitable access to these amazing resources and opportunities.  We are thrilled that we were able to deliver the new PIONEER curriculum which allows us to meet these goals for all our students. 

    Second year will continue with standard block clerkships, with PIONEER providing a new 16-week ambulatory block for more longitudinal ambulatory placements in Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Ob-Gyn, and Neuro. We will add a new foundational experience in Emergency Medicine, as well as enhanced foundational experiences in Anesthesia.  We will incorporate Radiology training into the Clinical Skills Intensive, which launches students into their clerkship phase, in order to prepare students to integrate imaging into all their clerkships. Discovery sessions will provide students with personal time to explore career interests. We will also include workshops in new areas of medicine, including design thinking, leadership, humanities, and more!

    • MS2 PIONEER Curriculum Implementation: Fall 2023. The current MS1s who have been accepted into the LIC program for their MS2 year starting August 2022 will continue as planned. The PCLT Program will continue alongside PIONEER as a dedicated four-year program in developing primary care leaders. 

    The dedicated scholarly experience of the Third Year has remained a cornerstone of the unique Duke School of Medicine curriculum for more than 60 years. Initially envisioned as a laboratory-based research experience, this component of the Duke curriculum has maintained its relevance by undergoing revisions in response to a rapidly changing medical landscape, and currently includes a broad array of internal and external scholarly experiences as well as integrated second and dual degrees. Despite the evolution of the scholarly research program, its fundamental mission has remained consistent: allowing students an immersive experience to gain the experiences and skills set necessary to become life-long learners in a rapidly changing medical environment; to give a head-start towards a successful academic career; and to train the next generation of physician leaders.

    The Third Year Taskforce has completed their review and reaffirmed Duke’s commitment to a flexible, immersive scholarly experience. The Taskforce affirmed Duke’s investment in a variety of scholarship and discovery, including biomedical sciences, clinical research, educational research, humanities. In select circumstances, the scholarly experience may be integrated with an advanced degree.

    • MS3 Curriculum Innovation Implementation: Beginning Fall 2024 

    The fourth year of medical school (MS4) prepares students for their transition to graduate medical education (GME) during residency. As part of a dedication to continuous improvement, the curriculum innovation committee will increase the opportunities in the fourth year to reflect updates to all previous years of medical school. In particular, growth will be directed by changes in the MS2 year as well as recommendations from the Patient FIRST Assessment Taskforce. The goal is to provide the most effective and valuable fourth year learning experiences for our students.

    • Expected MS4 Curriculum Innovation Implementation: Beginning Fall 2025

    Patient FIRST Curriculum Implementation Timeline

    MS1: Full implementation Fall 2021

    MS2: Beginning Fall 2023 

    MS3: Fall 2024 

    MS4: Beginning Fall 2025 

    New Longitudinal Curricular Experiences

    The new Patient FIRST curriculum will incorporate new longitudinal curricular experiences through all four years of the students’ medical education.  

    New longitudinal curriculum experiences will include a focus on: 

    • The goals of Patient FIRST curriculum continue with PIONEER in second year.
      • During this 16-week block, students care for patients in Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Neurology, and Emergency Medicine. This new clerkship brings students into the communities where our patients receive their outpatient care and increases training in preventative care and chronic disease management – areas of increasing importance for our patients and communities
      • In Discovery, students will have half days during which they can enhance their curriculum with individualized learning experiences. Students are encouraged to reflect on their own goals and interact with patients, seek out clinical experiences that align with their learning objectives, foster career exploration, or meet other academic or wellness needs.
      • Trailblazing sessions for PIONEER students are Wednesday mornings. During this time, students will be involved with active skills-based clinical training sessions. In addition to this skills-based content, sessions on areas such as leadership, design thinking, ethics, and population health will build on foundational skills learned in MS1 year.
    • Innovation Sciences: This thread seeks to integrate topics that prepare medical students to lead transformations in health care. These concept areas will augment the biomedical and clinical sciences and introduce medical students to skills and ideas equipping them to become leaders in design health, evidence-based clinical medicine, clinical research, basic science research, population health, health systems science,data science as their careers progress. 

    • Interprofessional Education: The Duke Center for Interprofessional Education and Care is developing deliberate opportunities for health professions students in the School of Medicine (Doctor of Medicine, Physician Assistant, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Occupational Therapy) and School of Nursing (bachelor, master, and doctoral programs) to engage in learning with, from, and about one another. Foundational coursework during the MS1 year will involve major co-located learning events and longitudinal small group engagement to prepare students for clinical learning on teams during MS2 and MS4. Duke graduates will be collaboration-ready physicians through participation in curricular, clinical, social, and service-learning activities.