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University Park Curriculum

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Download a printable PDF of all four years here

Typical Week Overview

An average week for a student in the University Park Curriculum includes:

  • Two half-days in clinical sites
  • Three half-days in small, faculty-facilitated Inquiry (IQ) Groups that draw on patient experiences as springboards for shared learning
  • Weekly Collaborative Science Seminars to address science topics in more depth
  • Humanities and Health Systems Sciences (H2S2)
  • Time is allocated on Tuesday mornings for a deeper dive into Humanities and Health Systems Sciences (H2S2). These sessions will be led by UP faculty and also by graduate students from the College of Liberal Arts at Penn State.
  • Self-study

Transition to Medicine

Last half of July

This time helps students transition to University Park and build skills necessary for success in medicine.

These first weeks are when students join the collegial ranks of the profession, and begin first steps of on-the-job training.

Patients and Sciences 1

Mid-July to mid-December, with break

I chose the UP Curriculum to see patients during my first year and learn medicine in the small classroom setting. Instead of strictly book learning for the first two years of medical school, I actually see patients and help with procedures. The small class size also affords me valuable one-on-one learning opportunities with providers and senior students.

– Rachel Dum, Class of 2025

The clinical experiences in Patients and Sciences 1 are designed to integrate students into practice sites in meaningful, patient-centered roles as patient navigators. Using a standardized series of cases (Problem-Based Learning), students work together during IQ sessions to co-create learning objectives around the four core Penn State College of Medicine pillars with faculty facilitators. PS1 includes Biomedical, Health Humanities, Health Systems and Clinical Sciences sections.

Students then research the learning objectives for collaborative discussion, practical application and additional question generation through the rest of the week and beyond. Students learn history, physical exam and presentation skills in PS1 and PS2, and practice in their clinical immersion sites. In addition to the IQ groups and clinical immersions, students participate in collaborative science tutorials for deeper exploration of biomedical science concepts.

A week of reflection and assessment occurs in October and December.

Patients and Sciences 2

Mid-January to early June, with break

The experiences in Patients and Sciences 2 are designed to build on what is learned in Patients and Sciences 1.

Primary Care Immersion is an integral part of Patients and Sciences 2 in the University Park Curriculum.

A week of reflection and assessment occurs in March and May.


Assessment periods occur at four points during Year 1.



Portfolios are part of the assessment process for medical students at Penn State College of Medicine. Written reflection assignments woven throughout the substance of PS1 and PS2 become part of each student’s learning portfolio, and these portfolios become the record of the students’ personal and professional growth through medical school. There is time set aside at the end of the first year for students to bring their portfolios up to date.

Medical Student Research and Global Health

Summer, end of Year 1

All students must complete a student-driven research project during the course of their studies in medical school. During the summer of the first year, students have the opportunity to do research for the Medical Student Research project and/or participate in global health opportunities.

Medical Student Research and Global Health

Summer, Start of Year 2

When I decided to come to University Park, I will admit I was a bit nervous. The curriculum was unlike anything I had heard about at my other medical school interviews – no lectures, clerkships would take place during second year, and only 11 other students in my class! However, it was the people I met on my interview day – the students, faculty and staff – who made me feel as if I had found my new home. Over two years later, all I can say is that I am so glad I took that leap of faith. Our curriculum has helped me to think in new and innovative ways to not just memorize facts but critically solve problems and find diagnoses. The small nature of the program made it such that I was able to work one-on-one with attendings throughout my clerkship year – scrubbing in on every surgery, carrying out clinic appointments with some autonomy and delivering six babies! However, most importantly, the people I have met here have become like a second family. Each day I feel supported and encouraged to do my best and feel as if I can fail safely as a result of the people who surround me.

– Lindsay Buzzelli, Class of 2022

During the summer of the first year, students have the opportunity to do research for the Medical Student Research project and/or participate in global health opportunities.

Transition to Clerkships

Beginning of Year 2

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 second-year medical student are covered through discussions on reflection, professionalism and communication.

Longitudinal Integrated Clerkships

Year 2

Required core clinical clerkships in internal medicine, family and community medicine, psychiatry, neuroscience, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and surgery take place in Year 2. The clerkships are structured in a longitudinal integrated clerkship (LIC) fashion, taking advantage of long-term continuity relationships with the physicians, patients and practices within the State College community.

Patients and Sciences 3: Integrated Science, Humanities and Health Systems in Clerkships

Year 2, with breaks

The Patients and Sciences 3 (PS3) portion of the second year is a formal didactic educational experience. All second-year University Park Curriculum medical students will return to the “classroom” for sessions focused on building an integrated approach into the medical students’ clinical training.

There are two components of PS3: Health Systems Sciences (also known as Marsh Rounds) and Health Humanities also known as (Kienle Groups). This course also incorporates a humanities stripe dedicated to student reflection on clinical experiences, while providing a supportive environment for sharing difficulties and insights.

  • Health Systems Sciences component is also known as Marsh Rounds (named in honor of E. Eugene Marsh, MD, who was the founding dean of the University Park Curriculum and who continues to be a valued educator in the University Park Curriculum) focuses on building an integrated sciences approach into second-year medical students’ clinical training. Mastery of the processes covered by the course will enhance the student’s ability to think critically about complex, clinical problems through the respective lenses of biomedical sciences, systems and social sciences. This includes one-on-one clinical reasoning coaching with core faculty, group discussion of real time clinical cases, and expert didactic sessions on important topics
  • Health Humanities component is also known as Keinle Groups. The Kienle Groups (based on the Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine from the Department of Humanities within Penn State College of Medicine) meet prior to Marsh Rounds. These small-group gatherings explore the professional development of medical students during the often stress-laden and tumultuous time of the clinical clerkship year. Discussions in these faculty-facilitated groups are free-flowing, student-driven and designed to provide a supportive environment for sharing insights, challenges, successes and difficulties encountered by the clerkship students as they care for patients, develop clinical acumen and learn firsthand about the complexities of the health care system.

Patients and Sciences 4

Late July through mid-December

The experiences in Patients and Sciences 4 (PS4) are designed to build on what is learned in Patients and Sciences 1, 2 and 3. PS4 is offered in the fall semester of the third year in the University Park Curriculum.

I chose the University Park Curriculum because of the small class size and early clinical opportunities, but I later realized the full extent of what the program has to offer. The longitudinal clerkship allowed me to form close relationships with both patients and my preceptors. I often worked one-on-one with physicians and never felt that I was lost in the shuffle. It was easy to find dedicated mentors to guide me toward the right career. Outside of class, we have access to all of Penn State’s main campus: gyms, club sports, music, art, and volunteer opportunities. The University Park Curriculum provided me with a rigorous hands on education, while the proximity to the main campus and downtown allowed for a vibrant experience outside of class.

– Kaitlyn Ruffing, Class of 2021

Basic science and clinical faculty facilitate this course, which is conducted in small-group discussions. The course is designed to elaborate and extend medical student learning in the foundational sciences as it relates and applies to the practice of evidence-based and patient-centered medical care.

Longitudinal Clinical Exploration


During PS4, each student will continue to engage in clinical experiences, working in and exploring specialties and subspecialties of their choosing, which will help guide their decision in and prepare for their future residency.

Preparing for the USMLE Step

USMLE study begins midway through the third year

The University Park Curriculum, with immersive and early clinical experiences, facilitates deep learning of concepts in science and medicine. This will establish a solid foundation for USMLE board preparation. In addition, collaborative science seminars, continuous exposure to board study questions, the second-year integrated clinical sciences and medical humanities and health systems sessions, the return to foundational science in PS4 and ample dedicated study time before the exam will combine with recognized external study and assessment programs to support successful student performance. Personnel from the Cognitive Skills Program schedule regular meetings with the students in order to optimize their preparation for this examination.

USMLE Step 1

Students prepare for and take USMLE Step 1 after PS4 and before starting Translating Health Systems.

Translating Health Systems

Two weeks at end of February and beginning of March timeframe

Phase III begins with a two-week Translating Health Systems intersession. 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.

Phase III: Discovery and Residency Prep

Starting in March
Students enter Phase III: Discovery and Residency Prep following USMLE Board Prep. The Discovery portion of the phase provides students with opportunities for additional career explorations, time to synthesize principles learned in Phase II and additional time for focused research. This portion of the phase includes the Translating Health Systems course, where students apply learned health systems principles.

As students confirm their residency choice, they move into the Residency Prep portion of the phase. This time provides students with opportunities to refine knowledge and skills as they prepare for entry into residencies. This portion of the phase includes variety of electives, two acting internships and a Humanities selective. Students also prepare for and take the USMLE Step 2 CK in the earlier part of Year 4. The phase is completed by the capstone course, Transition to Internship, followed by graduation.


End of Year 4
Students prepare for and take USMLE Step 2 CK towards the early part of Year 4.


Early part of Year 4

Students prepare for and take USMLE Step 2 CK towards the early part of Year 4.

Phase III: Discovery and Residency Prep

March to May of the following year, with breaks

This portion of Phase III includes residency preparation, interviews and the following:

  • 2 acting internships at Penn State Health or Penn State College of Medicine affiliates, including:
    • 1 specialty-based core acting internship and
    • 1 critical care or emergency medicine core acting internship
  • 1 humanities selective
  • 24 weeks of electives (including at least 12 weeks at Penn State Health or Penn State College of Medicine affiliates)
  • 2 or more 4-week clinical rotations must be taken within 5 months of graduation
  • Translating Health Systems course
  • Transition to Internship course

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.

Transition to Internship

Beginning of May to mid-May

The Transition to Internship course occurs at the end of each student’s medical school career and builds on these concepts in preparation for residency training. Transition to Internship 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. Transition to Internship 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.



See the graduation section of this site for more details.