Foundations Curriculum

nora-nagaruk-uaaStudents in the foundations phase of the curriculum remain in Alaska for the entire 18 months.

Key components of the foundations phase:

1. An initial period with instruction in basic clinical skills ensuring that all students are ready to work with patients during the patient care portion of the curriculum.
2. Basic science instruction is primarily organized in short blocks of instruction with each block consisting of related, integrated topics.
3. Content in cross-cutting scientific areas, such as pathology/histology, human form and function, and pharmacology, is consolidated by integrating these topics into all of the blocks.
4. Classroom time and lectures are reduced, and more time is utilized for active learning.

Molecular and Cellular Basis of Disease

Cell physiology, genes and genetics

Invaders and Defenders

Immune system, microbial biology, infectious diseases, inflammation and repair and skin-connective tissue

Circulatory Systems

Cardiovascular system, respiratory system, renal-urinary system, multi-system fluid balance

Blood and Cancer

Cancers, heme/lymph

Energetics and Homeostasis

Metabolism and nutrition, diabetes and obesity, gastrointestinal physiology, endocrinology

Mind, Brain and Behavior

Neuroscience and neurology, neurosurgery/trauma, sensory systems (ophthalmology/otolaryngology), psychiatry, anesthesia

Lifecycle and Reproduction

Lifecycle of humans and reproductive system.

Transitions to Clerkship

Preparation for USMLE step 1, introduction to research skills, transition to clerkships.

Threads and themes integrated throughout the new curriculum include: scientific threads (pharmacology, pathology/histology, human form and function), clinical threads (immersion, foundations of clinical medicine, and primary care practicum) and themes (areas identified as important to integrate into the blocks, clinical threads and clerkships: primary care; population health, health equity and global health; diversity, communication and interprofessional education; professionalism and ethics; lifelong learning, and scholarship).

Foundations of Clinical Medicine (required)

Students begin their education with training in basic clinical skills during a combined immersion and orientation, which allows students to have early exposure to patients in a longitudinal clinical experience focused on clinical skills, primary care, chronic care and continuity of care. Students work with physicians, faculty and other health professionals in patient care settings as well as completing special experiences (visiting labs, completing simulations, etc.). Students also have clinical skills training from their college mentors.

Non-clinical Electives

Non-clinical electives are courses relevant to medical education but do not involve direct patient care.
Indian Health teaches how to use medical resources to solve clinical problems, and understand how Native Americans utilize traditional Indian medicine for their health care.
Alternative Approaches to Healing explores philosophies and practices of the major alternative approaches to healing accompanied by presentations by practitioners of chiropractic, naturopathic, homeopathic, and traditional Chinese medicine.
Wilderness Medicine provides didactic and field experience in medical emergencies and situations unique to rural and wilderness settings, including, but not limited to, patient assessment, extrication, trauma, burns, water rescue, hypo/hyperthermia, toxins and high-altitude.

Summer Course

During summer after their first year, students complete an Independent Investigative Inquiry (III) project in one of five areas:

  1. Data-gathering/hypothesis-driven inquiry. This selective can take the form of a basic laboratory study, a survey, secondary analysis of an existing data set, a chart review, a qualitative study or a prospective clinical trial. Students may elect to complete an independent project or apply for the Medical Student Research Training Program (MSRTP). MSRTP provides approximately 40 funded opportunities each year for students enrolled at the University of Washington School of Medicine to participate in a full-time, 10-week summer research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor.
  2. Critical review of the literature. A critical review of the literature poses an unresolved scientific question relevant to the practice of clinical medicine and attempts to answer that question using evidence published in medical literature.
  3. Experience-driven inquiry – Rural/Underserved Opportunity Program (RUOP). RUOP is a 4-week elective immersion experience that provides students an opportunity to work side-by-side with a physician preceptor, providing care to either rural or urban underserved populations. Students will closely observe health care in a community setting then develop a project based on those observations. The project could take several forms, including a community needs assessment, a plan for a community health intervention, or evaluation of a service delivery project.
  4. Promoting community health in developing countries.This option is for students with a strong interest in global health and underserved communities and is particularly suited to students on the Global Health Pathway.


The Colleges program provides a four-year integrated approach to acquiring the fundamental clinical skills of physical exam and diagnosis, clinical reasoning and interpretation, communication with patients and colleagues, professionalism, and ethics. Students are assigned to a college upon acceptance to UWSOM. Each college has a dedicated group of mentors, one of whom serves as the Head of the College. Each student has a consistent faculty mentor throughout his or her medical school years. College mentors play a significant role in teaching students basic clinical skills as well as acting as their mentor. In addition to clinical skills and mentoring, there may be College-based activities that allow students in a given college to interact as part of a larger learning community. An educational learning portfolio is created and serves as a repository for written work, evaluations, and grades and allows college mentors to track student progress.

University of Washington School of Medicine, MD Program Curriculum Website