Foundations Curriculum student experience blog: First impressions

Sep 22, 2016
By Alexandra Majerski, class of 2T0
2T0 students taking part in case-based learning (from left to right): Donald Wang, Alexandra Majerski, Anthony Giuliano and Ryan Mason

2T0 students taking part in case-based learning (from left to right): Donald Wang, Alexandra Majerski, Anthony Giuliano and Ryan Mason.
Photo credit: Matthew Wong-Pack (2T0)

The University of Toronto’s MD Program welcomed its first class taking part in the new Foundations Curriculum on August 29, 2016. No time was wasted as we gathered into small groups on the afternoon of day one to take on our very first virtual patient case. Case-based learning (CBL) sessions are one of several newly introduced components to the curriculum which allow students the opportunity to develop and refine a skill essential to the practice of 21st century medicine: the ability to participate in and work as a team.

What else is needed for a productive team? Good communication skills.

Throwing us into the deep end, our Integrated Clinical Experience (ICE) course component put these skills into effect in week one by having us practice the way we introduce ourselves to patients in week one and hold a conversation with a standardized patient by week two.

In a survey conducted to capture the initial impressions of medical students towards the Foundations Curriculum, a common theme emerged: “one major strengh is that the content throughout the week is very diverse,” writes one respondent. A strategy that has made time for diverse content is the assignment of pre-week material. Electronic modules, videos and readings encourage independent learning and allow students to work at their own pace in order to prepare for the week’s reinforcing lectures. Although students generally agree that the content has been intellectually stimulating, the new mode of learning has received mixed results as “it seems very technology/computer oriented, which speaks to some people, but definitely not all.” In particular, the move towards lecture-free anatomy learning has been seen by several students, particularly those without an anatomy background, as challenging.         

Students have found the trend toward conducting low-stakes tests on a frequent basis a great success, rather than relying on high-stakes final exams that have been shown to encourage a bingeing and purging of information by students. One respondent commented that “it is truly more effective to have constant small testing – this does help me keep on top of the material and follow the flow of information.”

The change perhaps acknowledged most by students has been the incorporation of a full day of unscheduled time in the middle of the week. For now, students report studying, catching up on sleep, or catching up on life to occupy their Wednesdays, but the majority anticipate that this time will be devoted to extra-curricular activities and clinical shadowing activities in the near future.  


This student experience article expresses the views of first year MD Program student Alexandra Majerski and is not meant to be representative of the entire student experience, nor represent the MD Program.  

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