An outsider’s perception of the life of a medical student likely consists of a tedious courseload and hours spent memorizing facts and processes. But, more than a few books aside, more experiences outside of a lab lie ahead for those aspiring to become a healthcare professional.

In a lecture Tuesday, Joseph Kolars, senior associate dean for education and global initiatives at the Medical School, emphasized the development of a curriculum that produces socially aware students. The lecture occurred as part of a series of town hall meetings aimed at professors, researchers, students and other members of the Medical School community.

The town hall series exists to allow the community to take part in discussions about important issues related to the Medical School and offer a variety of perspectives on changes that will affect them. Tuesday’s meeting was the fifth in the series, which was first announced in the fall.

Kolars said this lecture was focused on advising professors to step back and reconsider the central ideas of success within the Medical School before developing a new curriculum.

While the series emphasizes change within the Medical School, Kolars addressed why many people ask, “If the school is doing so well, why do we need to change?”

Kolars’ lecture responded to this question with the suggestion that conversations shift from romanticizing quantitative successes of the past and instead focus on creating a conscious student that can be an agent of change.

“The first reflex to ‘What should we be teaching?’ is ‘Well, what’s on the test? What does the board say?’ And this is not necessarily a well-reasoned position in terms of what’s foundational and what we should be working on,” Kolars said.

He added that an emphasis on test scores and placement rates may blind educators to the evolution of other relevant topics that should be woven into Medical School curriculum. Kolars said the impetus to create a well-rounded curriculum stems from broader societal changes.

“Society is asking for a different kind of health system,” he said. “The public wants more quality and value for their dollar, they want a system that is easier to work with, where there’s more access and one they can understand better when it comes down to making choices. This shouldn’t just be based on advertisements on TV or hype; we should be able to help address that.”

He added that the school must address the importance of diversity with conversations rather than numbers or quotas.

“We have diversity but it’s just not enough,” Kolars said. “So we’re restless on how to do better and how to make sure we’re trying to have the right conversations about that. To me it’s not just about satisfying numbers, but what are the values that underpin that, and how can we make sure that we’re pursuing those values and making for a much more inclusive environment?”

Cheryl Moyer, managing director for Global REACH, a program in the Medical School that fosters its international research and education, said the Medical School must think about how its curriculum can be geared to the bigger picture beyond individual patient care.

“I think how we approach educating medical students will affect the type of doctors that we create, and so it’s important to be strategic in our education initiatives to make sure students have the best variance as possible and come out of their time here extremely well prepared,” she said. “I think there might be this misconception that the Medical School sits over here and does its own thing. Part of what we do is the same as what every part of this university does and that’s turn out change agents, and we need to consider how we can create the leaders of the future, the people who are going to make a difference in the world.”

Kolars’ entire lecture can be viewed online at the Medical School’s website.

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