As the pace of curriculum reform in medical education has accelerated during the past decade, so too have demands on curriculum managers to supply increasingly detailed information about the curriculum. In response, a number of schools have joined together to begin work on designs for computer databases of the curriculum. The authors describe three of the most mature curriculum database prototypes, developed by groups at the medical schools of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), The University of Maryland, and the University of Miami. All three groups have employed relational database management systems to organize information about each “instructional unit” in the preclinical curriculum, including a set of keywords defining the major concepts presented. The keywords are indexed to a controlled vocabulary, either the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) or a MeSH derivative. The UNC database also employs a textfile management system to provide users with an overview of the entire curriculum. Future work will focus on identifying a suitable controlled vocabulary; capturing content in greater contextual detail; incorporating alternative learning formats, such as problem-based learning; creating links between content items and examination questions; and capturing information generated by student-patient interactions in clinical settings. As a result of recent collaboration with the Association of American Medical Colleges, work to define a prototype national database has begun and a consortium of interested schools is addressing further development activities.
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