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MD Curriculum

Find detailed information about Feinberg's MD curriculum via the Education site.

How is the Feinberg curriculum structured?

The four years of study are divided into three phases, each of which contains contributions from the four curricular elements.

When do Feinberg students begin working with patients and learning clinical skills?

From the beginning of Phase 1 — the first 20 months of Feinberg’s medical school curriculum — all students spend one half day every other week learning and practicing clinical skills.

What is an Education-Centered Medical Home?

Early clinical training is an important part of the Feinberg curriculum. Caring for patients under the supervision of a faculty preceptor enables students to develop clinical skills and apply learning to authentic patient problems. From the first week of medical school, students are assigned to an Education-Centered Medical Home (ECMH). An ECMH is a primary care practice site staffed by a mixture of medical students (four from each of the four classes) residents and supervising faculty. To learn more, see Education-Centered Medical Home on the MD Education site.

Why do Feinberg students spend less time in lecture than students at other schools?

The philosophy at Feinberg favors active and inquiry-driven learning over the more passive learning style typical of the large lecture-hall format. Students spend much of their contact hours in small-group sessions, especially Problem-Based Learning, Health & Society and Professional Development.

What is the success rate of Feinberg medical students’ performance on the national boards?

The USMLE pass rate for Feinberg medical students has remained at 99 percent for a number of years, with our students scoring well above the national mean score.

What is the retention rate?

The retention rate of our medical students is 99 percent.

Can a medical student take courses at other Northwestern schools?

A student enrolled in the MD program at Feinberg can take up to one additional course a quarter in other schools at Northwestern without additional tuition on a space-available basis. These courses must be taken for a grade and credit (not audited) but will not appear on the student’s medical school transcript and cannot be credited to a dual degree.

Can I apply to both the traditional MD program and the MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program?

Because the programs are substantially different, applicants are allowed to apply to only one program; however, candidates may transfer their application from one program to the other until Dec. 1.

Who advises students at Feinberg? Are there faculty advisers?

The Associate Dean for Student Affairs, the Assistant Director of Student Affairs and the Director of Academic Success oversee the academic and career advising activities for Feinberg medical students.

The majority of Feinberg faculty have an open-door policy toward advising. Most medical students identify several faculty who serve as informal mentors during their years at Feinberg.

During third year, students pick a clinical faculty member who serves as their personal career adviser; their role is to provide guidance through the selection of a specialty and residency program application. Each medical specialty department has assigned a faculty member to serve as a career advising coordinator. Specialty coordinators assign advisers from their departments to those students seeking career advice and guidance in that particular field. Students are encouraged to contact the specialty area career advising coordinator directly to request an adviser.

See the list of specialty areas and advisers at Feinberg.

Mentoring is also an important part of our college structure and the Area of Scholarly Concentration component of our curriculum. During the M1 year, each student is assigned to a "college," which is headed by a faculty mentor.  Under the leadership of this mentor, approximately 44 students develop trust and help one another learn and adapt to the culture of medicine.

What is the purpose of a research experience for medical students at Feinberg?

The Feinberg curriculum is designed to function best for students who are inquisitive and inquiry-driven. Participating in original research is one way of encouraging this quality. Many of our students seek careers in academic medicine and will use their experience as student scientists to clarify their career plans.

Feinberg students participate in research through the Area of Scholarly Concentration, performing a highly mentored project that culminates with the writing of a thesis or a peer-reviewed publication.

What is the Area of Scholarly Concentration?

Information on the Area of Scholarly Concentration component of our curriculum is available via the MD Education site.

How is medical student progress assessed at Feinberg?

The Feinberg competencies include:

  • Medical Knowledge and Scholarship
  • Effective Communication and Interpersonal Skills
  • Professional Behavior and Moral Reasoning
  • Patient-Centered Medical Care
  • System Awareness and Team Based Care
  • Continuous Learning and Quality Improvement
  • Community Engagement and Service
  • Personal Awareness and Self-Care

More information on the Feinberg competencies can be found on the MD Education site.

An electronic portfolio, which is a repository of assessments, is maintained centrally for each Feinberg student throughout his or her enrollment. This portfolio is accessible at all times to the student and college mentor. 

The aim of the portfolio is to:

  • Provide an accessible record of student assessment through which the student and faculty can monitor competency achievement.
  • Record achievement in competencies that traditionally are difficult to measure (Professional Behavior and Moral Reasoning, Continuous Learning and Quality Improvement, Effective Communication and Interpersonal Skills, Systems Awareness and Team-Based Care and Patient-Centered Medical Care).
  • Allow students to reflect on learning experiences, create learning plans with mentored guidance and improve self-assessment and self-directed learning capacity.

Each student meets with their college mentor yearly during the M1/M2/M3 years for a formative portfolio review. A formal summative review of each student's portfolio occurs prior to beginning clerkships (mid-M2 year) and at the end of the M3 required clerkships. 

In addition, an official transcript will be kept for each student and maintained by the registrar. This will include block and course grades.

The Medical Student Performance Evaluation is a document prepared for each senior medical student entering the residency match. This document is completed according to national standards and includes block and course grades, clerkship grades, clerkship narratives and a summary of other achievements.

For more details about assessment, see the Student Policies.

Are dual-degree programs available? Are joint-degree programs available?

The Feinberg School of Medicine offers three dual-degrees master's programs that can be pursued over the course of the traditional four-year MD curriculum. These include: Master's in Public Health (MD/MPH), a master's in Medical Humanities & Bioethics (MD/MA) and a master's in Healthcare Quality & Patient Safety (MD/MS) that are offered part-time and are completely integrated into the Feinberg curriculum. This makes it possible to pursue expertise in these important areas, leading to an even broader base of experience and medical knowledge.   

The MD/MPH degree is an integrated medical and public health program for medical students. The part-time program consists of evening classes offered on the Chicago campus. Required coursework is included from the following disciplines: behavioral science, epidemiology, environmental health and healthcare management. Electives are offered in epidemiology and biostatistics, public health issues in the community, global health, public health law and research methodology. Students gain field experience during a project with a public health or community agency and are also required to do a public health project as their area of scholarly concentration, with both a paper and a podium presentation.

The Medical Humanities & Bioethics Program (MD/MA) offers a Master of Arts degree examining medicine and its ethics through various academic disciplines. Students attend lectures and classes offering cultural, philosophical, legal, literary and historical insight on the field of medicine. The program provides a rigorous master's-level education that aims to give students a richer view of medicine. Graduates will be able to use their multidisciplinary knowledge and skills in teaching, advising and ethical decision-making.

Feinberg, a leader in healthcare quality and patient safety education, offers an MD/MS in Healthcare Quality & Patient Safety. Northwestern was the first institution in the country to offer a master's degree in these important fields. The part-time program focuses on the knowledge, skills and methods required for improving healthcare delivery systems. The topics covered include: healthcare quality context and measurement, changing systems of care delivery, healthcare disparities, accountability and public policy, safety interventions and practices, health information technology, simulation and the science of teamwork, human factors, risk assessment methods and leadership and governance. Additionally, students learn about the external environment that shapes health policy, particularly in regard to quality and safety.

In addition, there are two degree options that can be completed by taking an additional year of classes. Students apply for these degree programs during their third year of medical school.

The MD/MBA joint degree is offered through Northwestern University's  Kellogg School of Management. Students apply during their third year of medical school. After completing the third year, students will enroll at Kellogg and spend approximately one year doing coursework exclusively through the Kellogg MS in Management studies program based on the Chicago campus. They return to medical school to complete their fourth-year rotations while finishing evening classes at Kellogg.

The MD/MS in Health Services & Outcomes Research option is offered through The Graduate School at Northwestern University. The MS degree is completed by taking one year of full-time graduate coursework. The program prepares students to create and disseminate new knowledge aimed at improving health policy, healthcare delivery and patient outcomes. The curriculum includes biostatistics, quantitative methods and study design, qualitative methods, health economics, grant writing and writing for peer review publications, as well as applied ethics and health policy. All master’s students complete a capstone research project that culminates in the submission of a manuscript for publication.

Feinberg offers a number of joint-degree programs for MD students. Learn more about degree options and all of Feinberg’s educational offerings via the program listing on the Education site.

What opportunities does Feinberg offer to medical students to obtain global health experience?

The Institute for Global Health integrates global health education programming and faculty research initiatives within the Feinberg School of Medicine. The institute works closely with Feinberg students to facilitate meaningful engagement in global health via research projects, supervised clinical rotations and global public health projects at affiliated and unaffiliated universities, health clinics and international non-governmental organizations around the world.

The global health programs at Northwestern are unique in several respects. A comprehensive program offers intensive, structured experiences, available to medical students in the summer between curricular Phases 1a and 1b. Students also have opportunities to participate in some of the institute's research collaborations. The Institute for Global Health maintains educational and research partnerships with various institutions around the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Other opportunities for elective clinical rotations during Phases 2 and 3 of the curriculum can be found across a wide range of institutions in both high- and low-income countries, including Bolivia, China, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Senegal and Uganda.

To make it easier for students to take advantage of these educational opportunities, Feinberg provides several sources of intramural funding for travel. The school coordinates the Global Health Initiative, originally spearheaded by a group of private practice physicians, which offers travel grants, depending on the destination, to support a number of education initiatives. Other school funds are available for qualified international research projects.

If I want to do research that will improve the delivery of health care in the U.S., how can I get the training I need?

The Feinberg School of Medicine offers a dual degree, the MD/MS in Health Services & Outcomes Research, which prepares students to conduct interdisciplinary research aimed at improving health policy, healthcare delivery and patient outcomes. Students apply to the program during their third year of medical school and take an additional year of coursework through The Graduate School between the third and fourth year of the medical curriculum. The master’s curriculum includes biostatistics, quantitative methods and study design, qualitative methods, health economics, grant writing and writing for peer review publications, as well as applied ethics and health policy. All students complete a capstone research project that culminates in the submission of a manuscript for publication. This graduate training prepares students to conduct further research during residency and fellowship years in preparation for research careers in academic medicine.