The making of a doctor

Thomas J. Lawley, Dean, Emory University School of Medicine

Dean Thomas J. Lawley

Our M3 class is a first, of sorts.

Two years ago, they entered the School of Medicine as the first class under our new curriculum. We had worked for several years on the new curriculum, and when they arrived, we were excited to get started and to see how they responded.

This fall, our M3s marked the halfway point through the curriculum. They have taken their time to give us valuable feedback on what and how they were learning—what they liked about the new curriculum and what needed tweaking. Overall, they gave the curriculum rave reviews, and they are thriving as doctors-in-training. Faculty report that their classes are fuller. Our applicant yield has gone up in the past two years, and MCAT scores have increased to 34, one point above our previous average. And our colleagues across the country at other medical schools have taken notice of what we’ve done here.

When I first looked at the new curriculum on paper, my first thought was how immensely different it is from the way I learned medicine many years ago. Certainly, medicine changes every year as new knowledge and technology are incorporated, but what strikes me about the curriculum is the way students learn. It’s more hands-on, integrated, and patient-centered.

The first two years are integrated basic and clinical sciences. Classes are no longer department-based, lecture-intensive classes. Group learning is emphasized, and patient contact begins in the second week. The focus is on patients—not diseases—and outpatient experience has been increased.

But what I am most proud of is the society system we now have.

Each society has eight or nine students and a faculty member who leads the group for all four years. The system gives students steady and intentional access to faculty, who supervise and mentor them. Keeping the same adviser allows both student and teacher to develop a personal connection. The School of Medicine pays salary for the society leaders. Each adviser gives up the equivalent of a day and a half each week from clinical and research responsibilities to spend with their students.

It’s a big responsibility to groom the next generation of doctors. Longtime faculty member Linton Hopkins is a society adviser. He and other society leaders teach everything from how to take a patient’s medical history to how to break bad news to patients in a humane and thoughtful way. Hopkins gave up his neurology clerkship that he had led for 15 years to serve as an adviser. He didn’t blink an eye: “Now I have nine new colleagues I am ushering into their careers,” he said.

The society leaders, like Hopkins, are modeling behavior that we want students to emulate, because beyond graduating promising doctors, we want to graduate promising leaders. 


Dean Thomas J. Lawley
Emory University School of Medicine

Editor’s Note: Dean Lawley was named chair-elect of the Association of American Medical Colleges in November. Since becoming dean in 1996, Lawley has increased school NIH-sponsored research funding nearly five-fold to more than $265 million per year. This past year the school moved up in the NIH rankings to 15 from 18.

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