Skip Navigation

MD Curriculum

Focusing on small-group learning and increased interaction with faculty, students are immersed in clinical experience from the very beginning.   A multitude of clinical sites provide students with extensive training in patient care, including an Outpatient Experience that begins early in the first year.  A 5-month Discovery period allows time for clinical or bench research, international experience, or other academic inquiry.

Highlights of the New Design

Our new curriculum was designed by the faculty and student leadership in keeping with the following desired characteristics of Emory School of Medicine graduates:

  • Superb clinicians who demonstrate the highest degree of professionalism, outstanding clinical competency and problem-solving skills, and the ability to understand and utilize basic science in the clinical setting;
  • Curious and creative thinkers with the ability to utilize available resources to answer clinical and research questions and to assess information critically;
  • Lifelong adult learners with the ability to take ownership of their own present and future educational needs;
  • Physicians who continue to be passionate about medicine and about making a difference, who are involved in and appreciate efforts to improve the health of local and global communities, and who see medicine as a profession that seeks to address issues of social justice;
  • Physicians committed to understanding the sociological, psychological, and economic issues of the patient, the family, and the community; and
  • Future leaders eager and able to play leadership roles in their chosen field of medicine or biomedical science, and in their community.

To achieve graduates with these characteristics, our new curriculum:

  • Is competency-based, through the development and assessment of core competencies as determined by the faculty;
  • Provides for integration of basic and clinical science, both horizontally (across disciplines) and vertically (across years) throughout all four years;
  • Provides an early introduction of clinical medicine and an increase in clinical experience in the ambulatory setting, including a sustained experience in a continuity clinic;
  • Increases flexibility throughout the four years of the curriculum;
  • Provides an 'in-depth' discovery phase that will enhance creativity, curiosity, and the development of leadership skills.  Inherent in this opportunity is the potential of a tuition-free fifth year of study, and encouragement of yearlong experiences at Emory (e.g., lab-based research, MPH at the Rollins School of Public Health) or at other institutions (e.g., CDC, NIH);
  • Reduces lecture time and relies less on rote memorization with simultaneous creation of more opportunities for active learning;
  • Provides better methods of academic and clinical assessment closely linked to the appropriate competencies;
  • Increases student mentoring throughout the four years of medical school and increases exposure to master clinicians at all Emory clinical sites; and
  • Increases use of clinical simulation and standardized patients for skills training and assessment.

Four Phases in Four Years

The MD curriculum is divided into four phases (view a chart of the 4 year MD Curriculum):

Phase 1:  Foundations of Medicine (18 months)

Following a week-long shadowing experience, known as “Week on the Wards,” students begin a 4-month “Healthy Human” module to study healthy human physiology. During this time, students begin their clinical skills training, meeting twice a week with their small group and small group leader – forming a close relationship with classmates and their faculty mentor early on. Small group discussions about professionalism, ethics, communication, cultural competency, and other “How to be a Doctor” skills add to the “whole person approach” to medical education.

Using those new skills, students begin seeing real patients in an outpatient clinic in their fifth month of medical school. Reporting for service one afternoon every other week for 12-months, first-year medical students are able to learn, hands-on, from a healthcare team – and their patients – in a longitudinal experience.

At this same time, students begin studying human disease in systems-based blocks for the duration of the Foundations Phase. Anatomy lab also takes place during this first phase. Each of 24 dissection tables is equipped with a computer to instantly access magnetic resonance and other images, study guides, lecture notes, and other electronic references. 

Grading is Pass/Fail for the first 18 months of our curriculum.

Finishing halfway through the second year, students are given two months of study time for Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam.

Phase 2:  Applications of Medical Sciences (12 months)

Providing students with core knowledge of the basic clinical medical and surgical fields, each student will complete required hospital rotations in Surgery, Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Neurology, Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Radiology, as well as outpatient rotations in Adult & Pediatric Primary Care, Dermatology, Urology, Ophthalmology, Orthopedic Surgery, Otolaryngology, and Palliative Care.

Students complete these rotations at Emory and Emory-affiliated healthcare facilities throughout the Atlanta area, including:

Phase 3:  Discovery (5 months)

This phase is a structured time for students to conduct a hypothesis-driven research project under the direction of a faculty member. While the Discovery project must be a scientific inquiry based in Medicine, students are able combine their interests in other areas, such as creative writing, public health, community development, education, or health policy, into their project. Many students are also able to include an international experience in their Discovery project. This is a critical opportunity for students to renew their creative energies and explore a new facet of medicine under the tutelage of an Emory faculty member. 

During Discovery, medical students will work virtually full time on their projects with no other commitments except occasional seminars or workshops relevant to their work. With only one required course held during this time (a special course addressing topics relevant to Discovery including reading the literature, writing and publishing papers, research ethics, and the IRB), students are also able to spend time in clinic to maintain and develop their clinical skills. 

Phase 4:  Translation of Medical Sciences (9 months)

This phase prepares each individual for the transition to physician. Required senior rotations include Emergency Medicine, Critical Care (ICU), and a sub-internship in Surgery, Medicine or Pediatrics; there is sufficient time for electives or away-rotations during this year. The Translation Phase concludes with a required month-long Capstone course that offers carefully designed lectures, workshops, panel discussions, and exercises which equip the soon-to-be-graduate with the practical skills and information that will be crucial to their success as residents.

Clinical Training

Students learn clinical skills in a wide variety of clinical environments.  First, students learn basic communication skills with their Small Groups.  Students take histories and conduct physical examinations on trained standardized patients in one of 16 clinical exam rooms; during this initial process, students are carefully observed and tutored by practicing physicians.  Video cameras record on-going efforts and enable critical learning and valuable faculty feedback to students as they work to progressively improve their skills throughout the four years of medical education.   

Within the first few months of the first year of Foundations, students are ready to begin seeing patients in a longitudinal Outpatient Experience (OPEX).  This 12-month required experience allows students to develop a relationship with a clinical preceptor, a multidisciplinary clinical team, and with a variety of patients.  

An unprecedented number of patient simulators are located in the School of Medicine’s Center for Experiential Learning.  These enable students to acquire and hone technical skills such as suturing, resuscitation, endotracheal intubation, basic life support, IV placement, and delivering a baby.  The Center is also used to simulate patient care in nearly any clinical setting, giving students an opportunity to virtually experience real-life situations such as team resuscitation, emergency obstetric care, and even large-scale disasters.  Team-training exercises are incorporated throughout the curriculum as a way for medical students to learn to work together with each other and with other members of the healthcare team, such as nurses, advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, and respiratory therapists.  Team management skills will be increasingly important in real-world delivery of healthcare in the U.S. and elsewhere.  

With over 3,000 patient beds in more than half a dozen hospitals, Emory medical students serve many different patient populations in many different settings.  Our students learn not only clinical exam methods and cutting-edge science, but also seek to understand the socio-cultural complexities and influences that affect the health of the individual.

Societies & Small Group Learning

An integral part of the new curriculum involves our Society System.  There are four Societies (named after four historic physicians) with four experienced clinician-educators (Small Group Advisors) in each Society; thus, each medical school class has 16 practicing physicians who are dedicated clinical teachers.  At Orientation, every student is assigned to a Society and a Small Group Advisor who stays with the student throughout their medical education; it is the Small Group Advisor who eventually hoods the student at Commencement exercises.

Meeting twice a week with their Small Group, students quickly form close relationships with classmates and faculty.  The Small Group Advisor instructs students in professionalism and the art of patient care, patient-physician communication skills, and the principles of physical examination and diagnostic thinking.  Small group instruction also covers many other critical topics, including peer-to-peer communication, medical ethics, preventive medicine, and personal wellness.  Problem-based learning is also conducted in the Small Group format, encouraging students to work together and teach each other.


With this curriculum, students are now able to:

  • Cultivate professional attitudes and behaviors under the guidance of skilled clinicians
  • Integrate basic science and clinical education
  • Begin clinical clerkships in the middle of the M2 Year
  • Take USMLE Step 1 earlier
  • Complete all core rotations before applying to residency programs
  • Gain valuable hands-on exposure to specialty and subspecialty fields
  • Graduate with the experience of completing their own research project; writing an academic paper; and acquiring presentation skills
  • Learn from diverse faculty from every clinical department
  • Develop close, one-on-one relationships and mentorships with multiple faculty members
  • Develop supportive relationships with Small Group classmates, spanning the entire four years of medical school
  • Care for patients earlier, in many clinical settings
  • Develop critical professional attitudes and skills that foster compassion and empathy
  • Develop team leadership skills with healthcare professionals from other disciplines, such as Physician Assistants, nurses, medical imaging specialists, genetic counselors, and physical therapists.
  • Practice critical skills in simulated, highly realistic team-training exercises
  • Graduate well-prepared for life as a successful and fulfilled physician