Curriculum Committee News
University of South Alabama College of Medicine
October 2015
The CURRents newsletter, published three times each year by the College of Medicine Division of Medical Education, is designed to inform USA COM faculty, residents and students about ongoing developments and events in our UME program. Its format parallels UME quality improvement efforts. Hence, in every issue you will be updated on the current stage of progress toward completion of a particular program initiative as we work through a PDSA quality improvement cycle of Planning, Doing, Studying and Acting.

Plan: Te4Q Initiative

The AAMC's Teaching for Quality program (Te4Q) was introduced to our faculty and health care administration staff by Dave Davis, MD during a two-day workshop session in September. As a result of this activity, the participants developed plans for design and implementation of quality improvement projects in patient safety within the context of the Te4Q program. One of these projects relates to the educational needs for enhanced communication in clinical settings by utilizing the SBARRR tool. This project integrates faculty in UME and GME with USA health systems staff. Once implemented, the SBARRR project will enhance student achievement in several communication-relevant objectives across the UME curriculum from M1 to M4. 

Do: Pre-clerkship Clinical Skills Highlighted

From the outset of medical school, pre-clerkship students enrolled in USA’s new curriculum engage in a vigorous training program to acquire clinical skills integrated with medical knowledge. Led by the Director of Clinical Skills, Christen Altermatt, MD, - along with the Allied Health Simulation Team – the program is centered in the Clinical Skills Lab at the MSB.  Learners prepare with specific competency-based learning objectives and assignments tailored for instructional sessions coordinated across the four years of education. Weekly activities include standardized patient encounters, clinical skill task trainers, clinical reasoning discussions, and formative assessments.  
Across the 2-year pre-clerkship curriculum, each student takes 4 summative Observer-Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs).  In these assessments, students demonstrate their developing competency in performing a focused history and physical exam, and documenting the encounter in a well-structured patient note.  As students strengthen their skills, the patient note requires a differential diagnosis list with appropriate diagnostic studies.  For each OSCE encounter a physician rater evaluates the student’s ability to professionally interact with patients, obtain relevant clinical information, document the information in a standard format and demonstrate their clinical reasoning skills. Pre-clerkship students can practice their skills during real patient encounters at local clinics participating in the College’s Longitudinal Experience in Ambulatory Practice (LEAP) program. 

Study: Soaring Scores on Clerkship NBME Shelf Exams

Student performance during clerkship year 2014-2015 was the focus of an August presentation to the Curriculum Committee by TJ Hundley, MD, Chair of the Clerkship Directors’ subcommittee and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine. In addition to summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of the competency evaluation tool in its trial year, the presentation revealed upward trending in NBME shelf exam scores across all seven clerkships concurrent with the onset of clerkship curriculum renewal beginning in 2013-2014. Click on the image below to view the upward trend in clerkship NBME shelf exam scores for USA students by graduating class.

Since the establishment of the 8th%tile minimum pass requirement for shelf exams in 2013-2014, mean scores for USA students have increased approximately 1.5-fold from the 40+%tile range to approximately the 65%tile, averaging all rotation scores across the seven clerkships. The sharp rise in shelf exam performance has translated into the highest STEP2CK score averages on record at USA, a highlight presented in the next issue of Currents. 

Act: Biostatistics Mini-module Launched in Fall 2015

Analyses of student performance and course evaluations gathered from 2012-2014 indicated a need for improved proficiency in biostatistics during pre-clerkship years in preparation for clinical training. To enhance the retention of basic principles, M1 students will take a week-long Biostatistics in Medicine mini-module launched this fall under the direction of Dr. Martha Arrieta, MD, PhD, MPh, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine. Building on this primer, students will subsequently apply basic principles of biostatistics to advanced lessons on topics in the epidemiology and population health thread that continues to expand in significance throughout the course of undergraduate training.

In this issue:


Tony Gard, PhD
Assistant Dean for Medical Education, Assessment and Evaluation

Benjamin Estrada, MD
Assistant Dean for Medical Education, Faculty Development

Guest Contributor:

Christen Altermatt, MD


Andrea Wright, MLIS
Information Services Coordinator, USA Biomedical Library
If you have any questions or suggestions regarding this newsletter or our UME program, let us know at
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