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A closeup of the Penn State College of Medicine logo is seen on the jacket of a white coat, draped over the arm of a medical student who is also holding a White Coat Ceremony program. The student was part of the July 2016 White Coat Ceremony, in which incoming medical students at the College receive their short white coats signifying their status as future doctors.

MD Programs

MD Curriculum Details

The Penn State College of Medicine MD curriculum is focused on creating humanistic physicians who are adaptive, critical-thinking, collaborative, and scholarly.

The four-phase Penn State College of Medicine curriculum is designed to reinforce the enduring tenets of the practice of medicine and address the broad and changing healthcare needs of society.

All students will be expected to meet our list of competencies before graduating with an MD degree.

Medical Training for a Changing Health System

Your experience as a Penn State College of Medicine MD student will comprise four phases:

Phase 1 – Foundations

  • Introduction to medical school and medical profession
  • Basic systems and clinical sciences
  • Humanities and professionalism
  • Physical diagnosis and communication skills
  • Patient navigation
  • Patient project
  • Teamwork
  • Critical thinking
  • Medical student research

Phase 2 – Clinical Core

  • Clinical rotations
  • Medical home and other elective options
  • Humanities and professionalism
  • Medical and system sciences

Phase 3 – Discovery

  • Individualized education, including exploration of career options and research
  • Application of health systems science

Phase 4 – Residency Preparation

  • Tailored electives
  • Acting Internships
  • Humanities

Phase 1

Profession of Medicine I

This course is designed to help you make the transition to medical education and training and to begin to build some of the skills necessary for success in medical school and a career in medicine. The transition to medical school is a very important time in the life of every doctor. No longer are you in college or a master’s program, striving for high grades as an end in and of themselves, or as a ticket to gaining admission to medical school.

These first weeks mark that time when you join the collegial ranks of the profession, and medical school represents the first step of on-the-job training. Profession of Medicine continues throughout your medical school curriculum as you transition into clinical rotations and prepare for residency.

Foundations of Patient-Centered Care

This course, which spans the first 19 months of medical school training at Penn State College of Medicine, is administered within students' respective Society and is integrated with other first and second year courses. The course consists of three components: communication/clinical interviewing, physical examination, and integration, application and advancement teaching sessions.

Humanities and Health Thread

The purpose of this thread is to foster the development of humanistic, curious health care professionals who practice collaborative inquiry and self-reflection. We strive to broaden learners' conception of what is necessary for the practice of good medicine across disciplines and over time. The 18-month Health and Humanities thread comprises five blocks:

  • Medical Humanities, which takes up topics such as empathy, suffering and resilience, and the cultures of medicine and medical education
  • The Mind-Body Connection, which explores topics such as placebos, learned helplessness, behavior change, and groupthink
  • Critical Thinking, which takes up topics such as metacognition, cognitive errors and biases, intuitive versus analytic thinking, and medical decision-making in the face of uncertainty
  • Medical Ethics and Professionalism, which provides students with a framework for decision making in the face of common ethical challenges and addresses issues involving autonomy, informed consent, advance care planning, medical mistakes and truth-telling
  • Communication which focuses on exploring assumptions and biases that impact communication and communicating in dyads, teams, and larger systems.

Embedded into the entire first year of the curriculum is the experiential Patients as Teachers Project, where students, in pairs, make home visits with patients and their families to learn about the lived experience of illness.

Science of Health Systems Curriculum

This 17-month longitudinal course spans the full medical school experience with the main focus in Phases 1 and 2. In this new health systems component, students will experience a new Science of Health Systems curriculum, where they will learn the foundations of health systems, health care delivery, financing, insurance, population and public health, socio-ecological medicine, quality, safety, value, and teamwork and leadership. Additionally, students will serve as patient navigators within the health system. Both the curriculum and patient navigator experience will allow students to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to function effectively amid the complexities of an evolving health system.

Primary Care Preceptorship

The Primary Care Preceptorship provides an opportunity for first-year medical students to participate in an organized educational experience with physicians who are board certified in the specialties of family medicine, internal medicine, and/or pediatrics. This course is scheduled for one week and requires each student to complete 40 hours within the ambulatory care setting of his/her designated preceptor.

All clinical training sites are reviewed to ensure the learning environment can provide students with the opportunity to achieve defined learning objectives and the physicians who teach are up-to-date on board certifications. The course offers a clinical experience early in the students' medical education and exposure to the fundamentals of patient care within the emerging models of health care in the 21st century. Students are offered clinical training experiences within the setting of the Commonwealth of PA, participating practices nationally, and an international track in affiliation with Global Brigades.

Clinical Learning and Competencies

Problem-based learning (PBL) classes of seven to 10 students develop critical-thinking skills necessary for clinical reasoning and problem solving. Using group dynamics, PBL promotes communication, professionalism and teamwork. Students learn to research and present evidence-based articles and use SNAPPS as a technique for clinical case presentations. PBL classes are incorporated into all organ-system courses and are facilitated by a faculty member.

Human Gross Anatomy

Our goal is to provide the preclinical foundation for medicine with respect to human structure, and to correlate this knowledge to application of patient care through integration with both pathobiology of disease and physical diagnosis. This course is integrated with organ-based courses. In addition, the course focuses on promoting team work, professional decorum and interaction, respect and compassion for others, honesty, integrity, self-reliance, patient care skills, and a sense of humor.

Scientific Principles of Medicine

This course provides a wide-range of scientific knowledge that underlies medical practice. Relevant material for SPM is drawn from biochemistry, histology, genetics, cell biology, molecular biology, microbiology, infectious disease, and cancer biology. Fundamental concepts of pharmacology are introduced. The course includes active-learning components such as a simulation lab exercise and large and small-group instruction.

Musculoskeletal, Dermatology and Rheumatology

This course has three major components. The first is dedicated to orthopedics, the second to rheumatology, and the third to dermatology. The course integrates dermatology, immunology, family medicine (sports medicine), internal medicine (rheumatology), orthopedics, pathology, and pediatrics (rheumatology). The subject matter is linked as joint disease connects orthopedics and rheumatology and, immunology connects rheumatology and dermatology. The lecture content and problem-based learning cases will help to illustrate the "connectedness" of this block of material.


The goal of the hematology course is to provide students with an introduction to the pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, and the principles of treatment of diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs.

Cardio-Respiratory Medicine

The Cardio-Respiratory course is the students' first intensive exposure to integrative physiology. Cardiology and Respiratory Medicine requires mastery of cardiovascular and respiratory physiology, anatomy, embryology, histology, pathology, immunology and pharmacology, as well as the clinical science underlying cardiovascular and respiratory disease. 

Lectures and problem-based learning cases are augmented by hands-on EKG sessions, training in the techniques of cardiac physical examination, workshops, lung and heart sounds simulations and a ventilation simulation laboratory. Cardiovascular disease remains a leading killer of Americans and lung disease is prevalent; knowledge gained here will be useful throughout your entire medical career.

Renal Medicine

The course provides an introduction to the physiology, anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, and pathology of the kidneys and urinary tract. Topics include the relationship between structure and function of urinary system; fluid, electrolyte and acid/base homeostasis in health and disease; etiology and manifestations of common diseases of the kidneys; and cellular processes that mediate the actions of pharmacological agents active in the urinary system.

Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology and Nutrition

This course provides exposure to the foundational basic science and advanced concepts necessary to understand the approaches used to diagnose, treat and manage disorders of nutrition, the oropharynx, esophagus, stomach, small and large bowel, pancreas, biliary system and liver. Foundational material will include integrative physiology of these organs.

The students will develop the ability to differentially diagnose, describe treatments, and review management of nutritional disorders and support as well as diseases of the GI organs and liver. The pathogenesis, pathology, differential diagnosis, clinical course, and complications of GI and liver diseases will be covered along with aspects of clinical management, especially the pharmacology of drugs used to treat them. The course will augment large-group classroom learning opportunities with problem-based learning, wet laboratory and simulation laboratory experiences.

Neural and Behavioral Science

NBS incorporates basic neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neurology, neuropathology, neuropharmacology, anesthesia, ophthalmology, radiology, behavioral science, and psychiatry. The goal is for students to understand the structure of the human nervous system, the biological mechanisms that underlie the functions of the nervous system, the neural basis of behavior, and the diagnosis, pathology and treatment of diseases that affect the nervous system by incorporating these topics with clinical relevance. The course also includes pathology wet labs and Neurology Day, where students interact in small groups with 14 patients who have various neurological disorders.

Endocrinology and Reproductive Medicine

The goal of this course is to learn about the general principles, physiology actions, causes and consequences of insufficiency or excess chemical messengers that function as hormones. These principles are then incorporated into the anatomy, histology and physiology of the female and male reproductive system, including pregnancy. Basic disease processes and therapeutics, including pharmacology, are also covered.

Phase 2

The Phase II curriculum begins with a Profession of Medicine II (POM II) course providing students with the skills and knowledge needed for successful transition into core clerkships.  The remainder of Phase II includes a sequence of required core clinical clerkships in Internal Medicine, Family and Community Medicine, Psychiatry, Underserved Medicine and Domestic Health, Neurology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, and Surgery.  Students also select one “third-year” elective and complete integrated sessions as a part of the Integrated Medical Sciences course. Phase II also contains a reflection and assessment week as well as formative and summative OSCEs prior to starting Phase III.

Profession of Medicine II

This course focuses on successfully transitioning students from preclinical to clinical training, building on the knowledge and clinical skills covered in Phase I. It includes advanced clinical skills training through simulation as well as several fundamental medical principles from various specialties that will be expanded and reinforced in subsequent clerkships. In addition, roles and responsibilities of a third-year medical student are covered through discussions on reflection, professionalism, and communication.

Clinically Integrated Medical Sciences

This course will focus on building an integrated sciences approach into 3rd year medical students' clinical training. Mastery of the processes covered by the course will enhance students' ability to think critically about complex, clinical problems through the respective lenses of biomedical sciences, systems and social sciences. This course incorporates a humanities stripe dedicated to student reflection on clinical experiences while providing a supportive environment for sharing difficulties and insights.


Four clerkship blocks make up a large part of the Phase 2 experience. They are:

Kienle Groups

During their third year, students participate in every other week small group sessions where they reflect on clinical experiences and explore how formal learning in Humanities can be challenged and reshaped by clinical realities. 

Phases 3 and 4

Phases III begins with a two-week Translating Health Systems intersession, and then transitions to a four-month discovery phase which allows for board preparation and career exploration as well as acting internships.  Phase IV includes residency preparation, interviews and two total acting internships in different clinical fields or one acting internship and one critical care rotation. 

Additional requirements include one humanities selective, completing 5 total electives (to include electives from phase II-III), and the Profession of Medicine III course (Transition to Internship). All graduation requirements are confirmed to be completed during this time.  The College of Medicine offers a variety of clinical, teaching and research electives for students during this phase.

Phase III: Discovery

This phase provides students with the opportunity to explore career options, perform research or scholarship, or remediate course work.

Phase IV: Residency Prep

This phase allows students to tailor a schedule based on residency selection and individual interests. The phase includes AI’s, outside electives, Humanities requirements, advanced basic science selectives, and Profession of Medicine III.

Translating Healthcare Science to the Clinical Setting (THCS)

This course is designed to help students apply concepts of patient safety, quality improvement, value, and teams to the clinical setting. It provides students with opportunities to actively identify patient safety issues and develop a quality improvement project proposal. By design, this course emphasizes teamwork, an essential component in providing quality patient care. The goal is to guide learning in these concepts so that students will have the base knowledge to help improve care of their patients and the health system in which they will work during the fourth year of medical school and in residencies.

Profession of Medicine III

Profession of Medicine III course, or Transition to Internship, occurs at the end of each student's medical school career and builds on these concepts in preparation for residency training. POM III is the final requirement for each graduating fourth year medical school class, taking place just prior to medical school graduation. Its structure includes both large group workshops (involving the entire fourth year class) and a number of small group "selective" sessions. POM III was designed with goals of providing review and practice of key clinical skills and concepts, as well as introduction of new information regarding communication and collaboration with other health professionals, teaching and evaluation strategies for interns in their educator roles, and practice in effective patient handoffs. The course also includes time for reflection on professional responsibilities, personal stressors and individual support systems.

Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Penn State Health Children's Hospital
Penn State Cancer Institute
Penn State University