February 1, 2011


Senior vice president and dean Ray Watts with School of Medicine students

Throughout its history, the School of Medicine has trained the best and brightest physicians to care for the people of Alabama. However, the elements of that training have evolved over time to incorporate new technologies, expanded knowledge about disease and treatment, and the increasing demands that physicians face in providing expert health care.

In 2007, the School of Medicine adopted a new curriculum emphasizing problem-solving, teamwork, and integration of clinical and basic science across all four years. This change has inspired much discussion among our alumni, and it was the focus of many of your responses in our recent survey.


A Work in Progress


Dr. Hughes Evans

From the beginning, the school has viewed the curriculum as a work in progress. Dr. Hughes Evans, our senior associate dean for medical education, reports that each module within the curriculum is reviewed before and after it is taught, using data from students, faculty, the National Board of Medical Examiners, a comprehensive basic science exam, and grades. Content areas and themes also receive regular, thorough assessments, and evaluations of clerkships are now under way.

These reviews have led to several changes in the past four years. For example, we have adjusted our course length and increased anatomy content. Now we are taking a comprehensive look at our undergraduate medical education to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of our students and our state.


Our Education Strategic Plan

Later this year, we will unveil a strategic plan focused on medical education, which will work in tandem with our strategic plans in research and primary care. This plan is necessary because our undergraduate curriculum must continue to grow and adapt. A competency-based education emphasizing clinical skills and a team approach to care will become increasingly important as the nature of physician practice evolves. We must ensure that our students graduate as health-care leaders and as excellent physicians.

The strategic plan will reaffirm our undergraduate curriculum as the first and most important step in a lifelong learning process. It will help improve our students’ clinical skills, in part through the use of simulation technology. It will retool areas to prepare our students for success with the USMLE Step 1. We also will emphasize professionalism throughout the curriculum.


Supporting Our Students


Dr. Betty Vaughan, past president of the Medical Alumni Association, with Dean Watts at the recent alumni reception in Huntsville. Click to see a slideshow of reception photos.

One of the greatest challenges facing our students is the rising cost of undergraduate medical education. Some of the brightest prospective students do not consider medical school because of the financial burden they could bear long after graduation.

I am pleased to announce the creation of a new scholarship that will help recruit and retain Alabama’s most promising students. Supported by the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation's General Endowment Fund, the HSF Medical Student Scholarship will provide $25,000 per year to a state resident based primarily on academic merit. It will be renewable for four years, and we expect to award the inaugural scholarship this fall. The recipients of this prestigious award will be known as the Health Services Foundation Medical Scholars.

Scholarships such as this one often make a crucial difference in a student’s decision to pursue a medical education, to consider our School of Medicine, and to serve their communities as physicians.


A Shared Commitment

It is gratifying to see alumni sharing our commitment to upholding the quality of undergraduate education at the School of Medicine. I am eager to discuss our ideas and goals, and listen to your input and feedback, as we develop the details of our education strategic plan. I also hope to see you at this month’s Medical Alumni Weekend, where we will honor some of our most distinguished graduates, celebrate our past and present successes, and lay the groundwork for a promising future together.