HMS Tackles Curricular Review

Harvard Medical School (HMS) is overhauling its M.D. program for the first time in almost 20 years.

Just as the College is revamping its curriculum, HMS may siginficantly alter its pre-med requirements to better reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the new medical school curriculum.

The reform will center around two other changes—introducing fields of concentration so students can focus on a specific area of medicine and eliminating the traditional third-year rotation system, says HMS Dean Joseph B. Martin.

The final changes recommended by the curricular review will be phased in beginning fall 2006, Martin says.

The executive committee of the review, headed by Martin, is currently forming new committees to pore over each idea separately. Formal decisions about the final structure of the changes will be made in March.

“We’re now in the phase of broadening that circle [of people familiar with the review’s recommendations],” says Professor of Medicine George E. Thibault, director of the Academy at HMS and head of one of the committees that formulated recommendations. “There’s going to be initial misunderstanding or plain difference of opinion. We’re in that process now, going public with this.”


HMS administrators say that incoming medical students need to be familiar with a more integrated approach to science. A series of interdisciplinary life science courses may take the place of the traditional biology, physics and chemistry requirements.

The College’s curricular review is planning to introduce life sciences classes that will satisfy any changes to the pre-med requirements of HMS.

Currently in its second year, the College’s curricular review has been lock-step with HMS with regard to the changes in the pre-med requirements for undergraduates, say administration officials on both sides.

“There’s a whole discussion [with the College] of developing a series of integrated biology courses,” says Dean for Medical Education Malcolm Cox. “There’s a lot of exciting ways of putting that material together to enhance scientific literacy.”

Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 says that the College’s curricular review—which he leads—is taking HMS’s proposed revisions into account for the design of new courses.

“So far, we seem to be moving on similar tracks,” says Gross. “So I am hopeful that the new science courses we are considering will meet their admissions requirements.”

Martin stresses that the changes in the pre-med requirements are not designed to increase the pre-med load on undergraduates. The current requirements at Harvard comprise at least a quarter of a pre-med’s total course load.

“We will not necessarily increase requirements—we don’t want to make students even more pre-med conscious,” he says. “We want to make sure that the courses taught to pre-meds are appropriate.”

Because pre-med requirements are roughly uniform among medical schools, Martin says that Harvard will sponsor a spring meeting of college and medical school deans from across the country to discuss changing the requirements across the board.