Office of Institutional Advancement

JeffMD: Change Means Continuity

A Q&A with Deborah Ziring, MD

JeffMD, SKMC’s new curriculum, will roll out in July 2017 for the Class of 2021. We sat down with Deb Ziring, associate dean, academic affairs, undergraduate medical education, to learn more about JeffMD. Dr. Ziring joined the faculty just a year ago to oversee the development and launch of JeffMD, but she is not new to Jefferson. She completed her residency in internal medicine at Jefferson in 1988. She developed her expertise in medical education as a faculty member at Drexel University College of Medicine.

Deborah Ziring, MD

What led SKMC to change a curriculum that has proven so successful?

JeffMD came about precisely to continue Jefferson’s long tradition of excellence in medicine.  Medicine is changing so dramatically.  SKMC needs to change as well to remain a leader in medical education. 

Can you give me an example? 

It’s not that doctors must learn different skills than we ever did, but they need them in a different balance.  For instance, doctors today can research medical conditions on our digital devices.  As a result, students need to memorize much less than my classmates and I did.  Now students need even more focus on how to ask questions that will get the information they need, and then evaluate the value and relevance of what they uncover. 

How does JeffMD reflect this difference?

Students will spend fewer hours in lectures and more time in small groups that work together to solve problems.  Their instructor will assist them as they work through cases with presenting symptoms, much as a patient does in an office visit, to facilitate development of their clinical reasoning skills.  Their progress to the next block of material will depend less exclusively on tests that show what they have memorized and more on the faculty’s assessment of their problem-solving skills, both individually and in groups.

That all sounds great, but won’t doctors still need to know fundamentals like how the immune system works to fight off infection?

Absolutely!  And students will still take a full course of anatomy, learn the basic organ systems, and master the other foundational material that doctors must have.  However, they will spend less time learning a fact they might encounter once in a very special circumstance, because now they can look it up.

When I look at the rainbow graphic showing all four years of JeffMD, it looks like both science instruction and clinical experience continue the whole time.  How does that work?

I’m glad you see that.  JeffMD integrates what you learn in the classroom with what you learn from patients much more thoroughly than happens in a traditional curriculum.  We know students retain knowledge better when they have the context provided by actually meeting patients.  Now students will become part of a care team soon after they start medical school.

How can Year One students contribute to clinical care when they are just starting medical school?

Don’t worry!  Neither patients nor students will be endangered by first-year experiences.  In JeffMD, Year One students will work with patients on non-medical barriers to care.  Let’s say a doctor writes a prescription for smoking cessation or nutritional counseling.  A Year One student will then match this with our database of community resources, talk with patients about what else they need, and follow up to encourage action.  As students learn more, their role in patient care will increase steadily. 

What about the element of Scholarly Inquiry that runs straight through the curriculum? 

Scholarly Inquiry is an area where SKMC is really creating a distinctive program.  Like case-based learning, this element will hone critical thinking and investigative skills.  Every student will complete an independent project, or series of projects, under the guidance of a paid mentor.  Students will choose among six tracks:  design, medical education, humanities, clinical and translational research, population health, and collaborative practice. 

What makes SKMC’s program so distinctive?

We are building on the success of our College within a College program, which the Licensing Commission on Medical Education recognized as an institutional strength. SKMC is really putting its money behind its ideas – paying mentors and creating an infrastructure to support student exploration and excellence. 

What else is a major change in JeffMD?

Students will be able to declare a specialty interest before the last phase of the curriculum, so they can choose electives that very specifically support their readiness for a residency. 

Do these changes at SKMC represent a larger national trend?

Yes, almost all medical schools are moving in this direction.  We are pleased that SKMC is one of 31 medical colleges that have received grants from the American Medical Association’s Consortium for Accelerating Change in Medical Education. The grants support us in exploring various aspects of educational reform so we can learn from each other and lead the way.

How have alumni been involved? 

Alumni sit on the JeffMD Steering Committee and Clinical Experience Design Team.  I had a great dialogue with alumni at my presentation to the Jefferson Alumni Association on September 8.  My colleague Peter Scoles, Senior Associate Dean, Curriculum Research and Development, and recipient of the Alumni Award of Merit last year, did the same in meetings with smaller groups of alumni throughout the region in the first year JeffMD was developed.  We are very serious about retaining the best of Jefferson’s traditions.

What do prospective students want to know?

They certainly want to know what will happen to their Board scores, and we can assure them that scores have stayed the same or risen at every medical college engaged in similar reforms.  Above all, they want to know they can expect the same level of excellence that led to their interest in SKMC.  We can assure them that is what JeffMD is all about!