By Claudis Polk, O’Rese Knight, Neva Howard and Beat Steiner
We want to share with you an exciting and powerful innovation aimed at narrowing persistent and severe health disparities in our state and in our country.
In 1969, students started the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC), the first student-run free clinic in the country. In 1974, UNC-Chapel Hill started the Carolina Medical Education Development (MED) program, designed to increase opportunities in the healthcare professions for individuals who demonstrate educational promise and commitment to a healthcare career but who have lacked opportunities in the past in moving toward their professional goals. There have been many other examples since.
To address these disparities within the healthcare system and within our education system, the UNC School of Medicine is rolling out a transformative new program, Carolina MED EXCEL (Medical Education Development Early eXperience in Clinical Education and Learning). Claudis Polk, MA, the director of the Office of Scholastic Enrichment and Equity, is providing oversight of the program, with O’Rese Knight, MD, serving as clinical director and Neva Howard, MD, serving as curriculum director. Carolina MED EXCEL formally launched in May 2021 and the class of 2026 will begin in fall 2022.
Carolina MED EXCEL will provide an intensive one-year clinical, academic and professional development curriculum with conditional acceptance to the School of Medicine upon successful completion of milestones. Conditional acceptance means that these students are guaranteed a spot in the medical school in the next year as long as they fulfill clearly established milestones. This conditional acceptance will help alleviate anxiety and allow these students to be valued members of our medical school community.
They will enter their first year of medical school well-prepared and well-positioned as leaders and role models. The curriculum of Carolina MED EXCEL leading to the entry into the SOM is designed to promote trust, belonging and inclusivity through the formation of deep relationships in a small-group, case-based learning community. The acquisition of content at the base of Bloom’s taxonomy will be achieved using a self-paced digital curriculum. Based on principles of cognitive load, spaced retrieval and interleaving, students learn content efficiently, and learning communities concentrate on application of concepts in an inclusive and authentic environment. Central to the program is engagement in population health projects servicing our immediate community in North Carolina.
Carolina MED EXCEL is designed to transform how we educate healthcare professionals and create leaders. The program begins with a small cohort of students and teachers fundamentally committed to change. For the inaugural class, we anticipate recruiting nine students and have already recruited teachers to work with those students.
Our years of work in remediation of medical students was in fact basic teaching: the development of the student. Remediation is the heart of teaching and transformation. Bringing growth and transformation to the heart of the curriculum will benefit everyone, and disproportionally benefit students who have large opportunity gaps due to arbitrary circumstance.
In the words of Benjamin Bloom in 1984, “The normal curve is a distribution most appropriate to chance and random activity. Education is a purposeful activity and we seek to have students learn what we would teach. Therefore, if we are effective, the distribution of grades will be anything but a normal curve. In fact, a normal curve is evidence of our failure to teach.”
For general questions about the MED EXCEL program, contact Maria Sears, Program Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about how to support the MED EXCEL program, contact Jeanine Simmons, Senior Executive Director, Medical Education and Alumni Development, at email@example.com.