New course based on the education model at Harvard Medical School

9 November 2021

“Think like a doctor – patients and cases, or how to use your existing anatomy knowledge to solve clinical cases” – this is the title of the new course at our faculty last semester, based on the education model of Harvard Medical School. The course was planned to start both in Hungarian and English, but due to the low number of Hungarian students, only the English classes started. The novelty of the course is that they discuss illnesses of a certain organ system in each class, organised around clinical cases in an interactive format. Based on the feedback of participating students, the course was started this semester as well. Anatomy senior lecturer dr. József Farkas, director of the course trusts that they can continue their work in person, with similar interest.


written by Rita Schweier


- You took part in this new course in person in the United States. The experience must have been convincing if it made you decide to adapt the method to the local education.

- That is true, we had a networking trip in the US in the Spring of 2019 with dr. Miklós Nyitrai dean, dr. Dóra Reglődi vice-dean and dr. Péter Maróti. One of the stops of this trip was Harvard Medical School. There we have met a doctor of Hungarian origins, dr. Krisztina Fischer. She is a colleague of the Department of Radiology, and deals with actualising anatomy curricula, education development and education technology research. She was the one to introduce us to this method, new even at Harvard – they only started using it in 2015. We took a liking to it, and decided to try it as an elective course here for a semester. Harvard Medical School is a big name in medical studies, and if they got as far as making this method their curriculum, it can only be a good thing – it can serve as an example for us, even if the new student populations are very different.

- What is the novelty of this course?

- Compared to our traditional, vertical system with pre-requisites, their system is wholly different. They let the students decide on much more things, their communication is less one-sided and they have a lot less lectures. Theoretical knowledge must be acquired at home by students – and afterwards, they go to classes where they discuss the relevant anatomy, physiology and pharmacology based on actual clinical cases and problems. Students are active participants of the course, they can’t just sit in the corner quietly – they have to think about the questions. They deal with the characteristic diseases of each organ: for example, when talking about lungs, the class will be built around pneumonia or lung tumours. The principle itself is not new; however, modifying their existing system and implementing new ideas into their curriculum certainly is.

- Did you have a hard time when starting the thought process and organisation for this course?

- Yes, because the coronavirus pandemic interrupted. Organisation started pre-pandemic, but we got stuck with it in Marcs 2020. After some hesitation, we still continued, fully aware that it will be more difficult without in-person education. Our colleagues are very agile and committed, and student were enthusiastic, which meant a lot.

- Who are the educators?

- Originally, we had more, but the Hungarian course did not take off, even though the available places filled up quickly at course registration due to the limits of the interactive nature of the course. Then the numbers started dropping, and in the end, we could only start the course in English. The maximum number of students was 16, divided into groups of four for some exercises. Dr. László Czopf handled internal medicine, dr. Ágnes Sebők neurology, and I was there for anatomy and its internal medicine related questions. Classes were held in clusters, one session was three fourty-five minute parts. This is an elective course for credits and it needed three sessions in the semester. Students received class materials the week before class, and education was based on this.

- What can we know about continuation?

- We are sure to announce the course this academic year as well. I am hoping that we can start it in Hungarian and German as well, since we had many German language students in the previous corse. They are extremely open and agile, our task is to organise educators for them. Professor dr. Zsuzsanna Nagy has already expressed her interest in joining, and I hope we can include her in our work in the future. We do not have a shortage of educators, everyone is happy to join us.

- Based on feedback, how did students find the new course?

- We did not prepare formal feedback, which is something we want to change in the future. But according to my observations, students enjoyed being able to use their knowledge in practice, and using it for understanding symptoms and making decisions. There is, of course, room for improvement, but I think this was not a bad start.

- This course fits into the Learning Culture Concept of the strategic plan of the Medical School. Do you have any further ideas similar to this?

- In the past decade, we have tried to implement new things into education if we saw something good elsewhere. From this point of view, even the pandemic has its positive effects: we tried many new methods that we would not have tried in other circumstances. This new course can be further developed in clinical settings. We would not leave treating patients to second year medical students, but they could attend the clinics in small numbers, studying real cases, following the disease history of patients. It is difficult to turn this into a course, but I’m sure we could find the possibility for a technical approach.