Letter from the Dean

Dean Philip A. Pizzo, MD

Dean Philip A. Pizzo, M.D. ; Photograph Leslie Williamson

Dear Readers,

Among the highest priorities in the Stanford School of Medicine Strategic Plan, “Translating Discoveries,” is the renewal of our programs for medical student education. That is not to say that Stanford’s medical school education program is broken but only that it must change to optimize our resources, given our goal of enabling our graduates to become the leaders that we believe they must become.

We are blessed with outstanding students at Stanford. Indeed, more than 80 of the students who have been offered admission for the class entering in September 2003 recently visited the campus, meeting with students and faculty. Most of them will join the outstanding student body that has been assembled at Stanford in past years. For example, our current first-year medical students, who matriculated in September 2002, included 86 students selected from 5,239 applicants.

Our current first-year class is an impressive, diverse group. The average age is 22.9 years with a range of 19-31 years. A slight majority (53 percent) are women and 21 percent are underrepresented minority students. Fifteen percent have advanced degrees (six doctorates, 11 master’s degrees). These students performed very well as undergraduates, with an overall GPA of 3.74. Seventy-one of the current first-year students come to Stanford from throughout the United States and 19 were born in foreign countries. They also come from 38 colleges and universities, with the largest number coming from Stanford (17 students) and Harvard (nine students) but with 25 schools being represented by single students. Seven members of the class were deferrals from previous years and nine of those admitted have deferred enrollment to fall 2003 or later, permitting them to engage in activities that will enhance their education and contributions to the class.

Entrusted with such talented students, we must prepare them for the important roles and opportunities that await them. Stanford’s record of creativity in medical student education began with the “Five Year Plan” when the school first moved from San Francisco to Palo Alto in 1959. The advantage of having a medical school education in an environment that brings together on a single campus faculty from schools of medicine, engineering, humanities and sciences, earth sciences, business, education and law is nonpareil. Taking advantage of this diverse and outstanding educational environment has long been one of Stanford’s greatest strengths. Coupled with this is the opportunity for our students to learn in an environment that fosters collegiality and permits significant flexibility. Another distinguishing feature is that in comparison with medical students throughout the nation, ours graduate with relatively little debt: a result of the scholarship and grant support the students receive.
While medical school education must be built on a strong foundation in basic science, we are reassessing the teaching approach that has long characterized the medical curriculum across the nation. This past approach compartmentalizes learning, beginning with the basic science pre-clinical courses that lead up to the clinical education. Indeed, a fusion of basic and clinical science is essential if we are to optimize the impact of modern science on the practice of medicine.

Accordingly, under the leadership of Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education Dr. Julie Parsonnet, we are engaged in major curriculum redevelopment for medical students with the goal of instituting the new Stanford curriculum for the class entering in 2003. One of the overarching goals includes fostering parallel learning throughout the medical school in both basic science and clinical medicine to achieve continued connectivity with the scientific principles that are the foundations of modern clinical medicine and clinical practice. In addition, we want our students to pursue independent scholarship through “scholarly concentrations” (or medical majors) that will enable them to develop specific skills through a mentored curriculum with associated research. These scholarly concentrations will be mentored, course-driven and engage students in original or investigative research in disciplines ranging from molecular medicine to public service. To accomplish our educational goals, it is also important to critically assess the extent of fundamental knowledge that students must gather early in medical school to prepare them for lifetime learning rather than concentrated rote learning. These changes are, of course, interrelated and must be further guided by assuring that our students still have an environment that fosters flexibility and individual development. Such changes quite naturally foster both excitement and concern.

I am cognizant that change is difficult and that there are many stakeholders, each with an important perspective. Thankfully, during the past year our students, faculty and governing bodies including course directors, the faculty senate and the dean’s office, have aligned to make the new Stanford curriculum a reality. By doing so, our Stanford community has united to create a new pathway for the generations to come. I am confident that the guiding principles shaping these changes will enrich the opportunities for our students and make education at Stanford transformational in American medicine for the 21st century.


Philip A. Pizzo, MD
Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Professor of
Pediatrics and of Microbiology and Immunology
Dean, Stanford University School of Medicine

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