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Problem-Based Learning Curriculum a Success for Medical School

MU study, which was conducted by Hoffman, Hosokawa and others from the medical school, found that beginning with the first class with a PBL curriculum, students' scores on both portions of the United States Medical Licensing Examination increased dramatically.

With the introduction of PBL, the student average on the basic sciences and clinical portions of the exams rose above the national mean. The scores steadily increased and, 10 years after the program was implemented, students' scores continue to be significantly above the national means on both portions of the exam.

Researchers also reviewed graduates' performance during their first year of residency. They compared supervisors' evaluations before and after the implementation of the PBL curriculum in 17 separate categories. In every comparison, students who completed the PBL curriculum received higher scores from the program directors than did students from the traditional curriculum.

There are two years of PBL curriculum, each consisting of four 10-week blocks. Each block includes eight weeks for learning, one week for assessment and a one-week break. A block has two major components: Basic Science/PBL and Introduction to Patient Care. In basic science, students work in groups of eight with a faculty tutor, and learn by studying cases. Students work through one PBL case each week and cover 64 cases by the completion of the second year. The purpose is to learn the basic science of medicine and problem solving, not simply to obtain a diagnosis.

Lectures and lab introduce basic concepts that correlate with the cases. Lectures are designed to provide overviews rather than detailed presentations of the basic sciences. First-year students are in PBL groups for up to 10 hours per week, with about 10 hours of supplemental lectures and labs. Second-year students spend up to 10 hours in PBL groups and 10 hours in traditional learning activities. "Introduction to Patient
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