Newsroom

Our Stories

Students work together to resolve medical cases in new curriculum

Toronto, September 27, 2016

By Kaitlyn Patterson

Pathologist Dr. Eleanor Latta uses her expertise in diagnosing diseases and tissue damage to help develop cases for the new medical curriculum.
Pathologist Dr. Eleanor Latta uses her expertise in diagnosing diseases and tissue damage to help develop cases for the new medical curriculum. (Photo by Katie Cooper)

For the first time in more than 20 years, undergraduate medical students entering St. Michael’s FitzGerald Academy will experience a new curriculum – one with more practical, student-led learning than faculty-led lectures.

“When a patient comes to your clinic with a complex problem, there are no lecture notes to rely on,” said Dr. Molly Zirkle, director of the FitzGerald Academy. “The new curriculum helps students apply their newfound medical knowledge to relevant clinical cases and fosters lifelong learning.”

The most significant change in the Foundations Curriculum is the Toronto Patient-Centred Integrated Curriculum, or TOPIC, component. Students work in groups of eight to 10 on a case that integrates material they are learning that week. The online cases involve a narrative of a simulated patient with a real-life clinical problem.

Students are assigned a case on a Monday and work through the case with their group. On Thursday, they meet with a faculty tutor to explain the reasoning behind their answers to case questions and to ensure they have learned important concepts that they can apply to other situations.

Dr. Eleanor Latta, a pathologist at St. Michael’s, was a faculty tutor for two pilot programs and will continue this year. She also developed cases for the new curriculum, consulting other health professionals at St. Michael’s to ensure a multidisciplinary approach to each case. For example, a breast cancer case includes a patient’s initial visit to her doctor, a diagnosis, follow-up examinations and treatment. To form a step-by-step approach to this case, Dr. Latta collaborated with a family physician, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and radiologist.

   
Did you know?
Of the 259 undergraduate medical students from the University of Toronto, 54 attend the St. Michael’s FitzGerald Academy.

“Medicine is a collaborative effort for both staff and students,” said Dr. Latta. “Working through questions together teaches students to focus a discussion around an issue, to divide work appropriately and then to come up with the best possible course of management for the patient.”

Erica Pascoal, a student from the two pilot programs, found that working through cases as a team helped her understand how to effectively approach a case.

“Case-based learning helps us think critically,” said Pascoal. “The questions we have to answer at each step in the case, such as what test needs to be ordered or what type of exam our patient needs, keeps our learning realistic and patient-focused.”

The Foundations Curriculum launched in August 2016. Read more about it at www.foundations.md.utoronto.ca.

An example of a timetable for a typical week in Year 1 of the new Foundations curriculum
An example of a timetable for a typical week in Year 1 of the new Foundations curriculum.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.