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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. Phase 1 (M1 and M2 years) comprises the first 20 months of the curriculum during which students proceed through 14 separate organ-based modules. During Phase 2 (M3 year), students will complete six core clerkships with additional time for clinical electives. The Feinberg experience culminates with Phase 3 where students will complete advanced clerkships while focusing on readiness for residency. 

Four key curricular elements are woven throughout all 3 phases - Science in Medicine, Clinical Medicine, Health and Society, and Professional Development.  Much of Phase 1 is devoted to Science in Medicine when medical knowledge is acquired and consolidated and the focus shifts to Clinical Medicine and Professional Development during Phases 2 and 3.  Understanding the importance of social determinants of health starts on day one and continues throughout all phases through the Health and Society element. 

Are diversity-related health issues part of the Feinberg curriculum?

Our institution is deeply committed to creating an inclusive learning environment that reflects the diversity of our city. Curricular leaders and students have partnered to ensure content is free of bias. Diversity initiatives have been integrated throughout our teaching, research and clinical activities. Chicago offers an incredible backdrop for MD training. The size and cultural diversity of our city allows us to infuse cultural competency training into our students’ clinical experiences, including our clinics in Chinatown and on Devon.

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

Beginning in Phase 1, students learn and practice clinical skills in both simulated and real-world settings. In the Clinical Education Center, students work with small group facilitators and standardized patients to learn a variety of clinical skills. Each student has an opportunity to apply these skills in their Education-Centered Medical Home - a half-day experience every other week in a primary-care based setting. 

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), PA students, 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.

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.

Who advises students at Feinberg? Are there faculty advisers?

Advising and mentoring is an important part of the Feinberg experience.  You will have multiple faculty mentors throughout your 4 years. Through our college structure, 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 20 students develop trust and help one another learn and adapt to the culture of medicine. Through participation in the Area of Scholarly Concentration, you will be assigned a faculty advisor who will help guide you during your 4 years, along with self-identifying an AOSC faculty research mentor. Through participation in the ECMH program, you will be assigned a faculty mentor who will help guide your clinical skills development throughout your four years. 

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 the third year, students pick a clinical faculty member who serves as a personal career adviser, providing 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.

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

What is the Area of Scholarly Concentration?

The Area of Scholarly Concentration (AOSC) allows all Feinberg students to engage in scholarly activity through a mentored research project.  During the M1 year, students attend a series of lectures and small groups that will prepare them to conceptualize projects, find mentors and create research proposals.  Students will have dedicated time to work on their AOSC projects between M1 and M2 years and during research electives.  Prior to graduation, students will have submitted a manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal or completed a thesis to conclude their AOSC project. 

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.

In addition, The Research Intensive Scholarly Emphasis (RISE) program provides an opportunity for students to apply for a fully funded extra year to perform research in a closely mentored environment overseen by experienced, productive faculty investigator-mentors.

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

The Robert J. Havey, MD 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 Havey 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.

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.