Integration of pharmacology into a problem–based learning curriculum for medical students

S. P. Sivam, P. G. Iatridis, S. Vaughn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study is threefold: (1) to describe a method of integration of pharmacology subject matter with other disciplines, in a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum employed at the Northwest Center for Medical Education (NWCME), Indiana University School of Medicine; (2) to present various evaluation methods employed to assess students' learning of pharmacology knowledge; and (3) to compare the academic performance of students who underwent a traditional curriculum versus the PBL curriculum in terms of class evaluations and the standard national board medical licensure examinations. The PBL curriculum is designed for the first 2 years of medical education and consists of six sequential steps: steps 1 and 2 deal with biochemistry and anatomy respectively; steps 3, 4 and 5 deal with physiology, neuroscience and general pathology/microbiology respectively; and step 6 is a multidisciplinary step, which integrates basic science subjects with clinical medicine, emphasizing the mechanism of disease in an organ-system approach. In the PBL curriculum students start learning pharmacology within 6 months of admission. The content and process of pharmacology are spread across the first and in the second year. The pharmacology content is divided into three segments, each of which is integrated with other basic science subjects that have maximum mutual relevance. The three segments are as follows: the general and systemic pharmacology (50%) was included in step 3; the neuropharmacology and toxicology (35%) part was included in step 4; the third segment consisted of antimicrobial agents, anticancer and antiinflammatory agents (15%) and was included in step 5. The class evaluation of student performance in the PBL curriculum consisted of two elements, the content examinations and the process evaluations, which include the tutorial and the triple-jump evaluations of problem-solving skills. In order to assess the overall academic performance of the PBL curriculum and traditional curriculum groups, three classes of students who took the PBLC were compared with three classes of students who underwent a TC for performance in terms of class grades and scores of National Board examinations (NBME I and/or USMLE I). The PBL curriculum students performed as well as or better than the TC students as measured by the NMBE I and/or USMLE I. The gain in pharmacology knowledge of PBL students is accompanied by the presence of a positive experience that learning pharmacology is enjoyable. Our experience suggests that the segmental integration approach of instruction coupled with a system of content (internal and external examinations) and process (tutorial and triple-jump) evaluations, as outlined in this paper is a contextualized learning method that offers an effective way of imparting pharmacology knowledge to medical students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-296
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1995


  • Education, medical, contextualized
  • Pharmacology
  • Problem-based learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Nursing(all)
  • Education

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