2.18 Curriculum Continuity: Policy on Interruption
Each phase of the first three years of the MD curriculum follows from, builds upon, and reinforces the preceding one, and students are expected to progress developmentally from normal systems to pathophysiology and then to clinical medicine in an uninterrupted temporal sequence. Interrupting the MD curriculum after the Fundamentals of Medicine, Pathways or HST preclerkship curriculum to pursue a Master’s degree disrupts this important pedagogic sequence. The value of this continuity is recognized, in fact, by most Master’s degree programs, which prefer or require that medical students complete three years of medical school before enrolling. Moreover, entering a Master’s program prior to the completion of the PCE creates logistical and scheduling problems for both the MD and Master’s programs. Because Master’s degree programs follow a traditional academic calendar, the programs do not begin until September, creating a hiatus from April through August. More importantly, the programs do not end until mid-May, which prevents a student in the New Pathway or HST from entering the PCE at its critical beginning, a period when many foundational sessions are presented that subsequent educational activities build upon.
Harvard medical students interested in pursuing a Master’s degree in conjunction with their MD degree are eligible to enroll in a Master’s program (either at another Harvard school or at another university) only after successfully completing the first three years of medical school.
Under unusual circumstances, a student in the New Pathway curriculum may petition the Program in Medical Education (PME) Council of Academic Societies (CAS) to pursue a year of research between Year II and the PCE (see Section 1.05, Five-Year MD Program). In most cases, such requests involve situations in which the student wishes to continue on-going research; for example, if a student has been involved in an intensive research program during Year II and would benefit from continuing this research after the second year. Approval must be obtained from the Master or Associate Master of the student’s Academic Society as well as the CAS. If permission is granted, the research must take place between April of Year II at the earliest and April of Year III at the latest, as students who conduct research after Year II must be able to participate in the PCE transition period at the end of April and to begin the PCE at the beginning of May following the research year. Extensions beyond one year to complete research prior to the PCE are seldom granted and must be approved by the CAS. Students in the Pathways MD program enter the PCE in October of Year II and must complete the PCE before being eligible for a research year. Under unusual circumstances, a student may petition the CAS to pursue a year of research after nine months of the PCE. The research project in such situations would ordinarily be one that has begun during the first year of the MD program and that an externally funded program (e.g., a Howard Hughes fellowship) requires the research year to begin in July.
This policy has no effect on Leaves of Absence that are taken for extenuating personal or academic circumstances. In addition, this policy does not apply to the MD-PhD Program or to dental students. The PME, Academic Societies, and PCE leadership will strive to maintain a degree of flexibility to accommodate curriculum interruptions for extraordinary and compelling personal or academic reasons.