Dell Medical School curriculum prepares students for 21st century healthcare

Sachit Saksena

Staying healthy is the new “going to the doctor” — and Dell Medical School hopes to prepare its students for this 21st century mindset by allowing them to have one foot in traditional medicine and the other in just about everything else. 

The school, which opens this June, will introduce a new curriculum to expose medical students to a wide range of disciplines that they would not experience at a traditional medical school. 

Sue Cox, executive vice dean for academics at Dell Medical School, has been with the school from its conception — from hiring its inaugural dean, Clay Johnston, to creating and administering the new curriculum. 

“The goal of our curriculum is to focus students on the distinct challenges of 21st century health and medicine — and to engage students’ creativity in solving those challenges,” Cox said.

Traditionally, medical students spend two years studying hard science and two years rotating between different medical branches, such as neurology and oncology. This prepares students for dealing with sick patients — but not stopping them from getting sick. 

In contrast, Dell Medical School’s four-year curriculum will expose students to a huge variety of wider-reaching disciplines, such as social work and public health, that will prepare them to approach patient care with a preventative mindset. 

This difference becomes apparent in the students’ third year. 

“Year three is our innovation, leadership and discovery year where students will have options to complete a traditional research project or pursue a dual degree,” Cox said. “Students will participate in solving real problems in healthcare or population health.”

According to Cox, students will be able to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, business administration, public health or educational psychology. 

Another new aspect of the curriculum is the emphasis on collaboration. 

“Students will work in interprofessional teams through all four years,” Cox said. “Much of this activity will be working in the public or community health arenas, including community and preventative medicine.”

These teams could include graduate students from social work, nursing, pharmacy and nutrition. A Dell Medical student might be learning biochemistry in the classroom while collaborating with other students to lead sexual health clinics in the Austin community. 

This will enable students to approach real life health issues collaboratively from the start of their education, which Cox said will improve patient care tremendously. 

According to Cox, medical students will be able to take advantage of these opportunities to improve the overall health of Austin. The medical school will be the epicenter of an initiative to make Austin a model healthy city.

Cox said the use of the new curriculum will prepare Dell Medical School graduates for the changing medical world. 

“The future of healthcare is more about staying healthy than treating diseases,” Cox said. “Since we are starting from scratch, we do not have bad habits and are free to be innovative and creative. Whether it be for academics, community medicine, research or service, our graduates will be leaders in the transformation of healthcare.”