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Building a Curriculum Inventory: Program Objectives Drive Curriculum

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Program objectives are the expectations or outcomes students must meet by graduation. Schools may craft their own program objectives from scratch or use an existing model either as-is or as inspiration.

One model that schools may use as-is, or as inspiration, is the Physician Competency Reference Set (PCRS) found in our Resources to Establish Your CI. Schools may use the PCRS as inspiration or as-is for their own program objectives but are not required to do so. Program objectives may be tailored to a school’s mission and vision, culture, and patient populations.

Program objectives’ role in the curriculum

Program objectives govern the curriculum. They drive the content, course and event-level learning objectives, instructional and assessment approaches, and more. Because the program objectives drive the entire curriculum, it is important to make sure your program objectives are:

  • Up to date
  • Accurately capture the required curricular content for graduating students
  • Align with your school’s mission and vision, culture, and patient population
  • Written in descriptive, specific, outcomes-based language
  • Reviewed and approved by your Curriculum Committee (or similar oversight body)

For example, perhaps your school has a desire to deliver leadership curriculum content to students and has identified this goal in its mission and vision. Are leadership skills represented in some way in your program objectives? If not, it will be difficult to link course and event-level learning objectives regarding leadership skill development up to a program objective.

Gaps such as this will be easier to identify once you have a CI built, but in the meantime, a review of the program objectives for any potential gaps would be helpful to identify and address before you begin the in-depth work of building your CI.

Task #1

Review your school’s program objectives.

One way to identify curriculum gaps before your CI is built is to map each of your current program objectives to a PCRS competency statement. This linking of program objectives to PCRS is required, ultimately, for your CI upload to AAMC so that AAMC can compare program objectives across schools, as schools may use diverse language and models when crafting their program objectives. The linking of schools’ program objectives to the PCRS is required to upload to the AAMC CI; schools are not required to use the PCRS within their program objectives language, although they may choose to do so.

available on the ci portal: Report on school practices and the Physician Competency Reference Set

For example, perhaps while you are linking your program objectives each to a PCRS competency statement, you find that you have very many program objectives mapped to the PCRS domains for patient care (1.0) and knowledge for practice (2.0), but very few program objectives across the other PCRS domains(e.g., practice-based learning and improvement, interpersonal and communication skills, etc.). This may be intentional for your curriculum, but if not, identifying these gaps can inform your analysis of whether your current program objectives meet your school’s needs.

Perhaps you note that your program objectives do not have any links to the PCRS domain for interprofessional collaboration (7.0), although interprofessional practice is identified in your school of medicine’s mission statement. In this hypothetical case, noting the discrepancy between your school’s mission and program objectives, and the gap you identified by linking program objectives to the PCRS, may prompt further discussion and potentially edits to your program objectives, mission statement, or both.

If and how you choose to address the gaps you identify in your program objectives will be helpful to document and bring to your curriculum committee or similar oversight body, which in turn may support your accreditation efforts.

Task #2

Identify links between each of your program objectives and a PCRS.

Considerations in finalizing your program objectives

When organizing your program objectives, you may “nest” your program objective statements into a given domain. Domains for your program objectives are not required for your CI upload, however domains can be helpful for both organizing and succinctly communicating the content of your curriculum.

There are a variety of models you could use if you would like to use domains to organize your program objectives. For example, the PCRS are organized according to eight domains: patient care, knowledge for practice, practice-based learning and improvement, interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, systems-based practice, interprofessional collaboration, and personal and professional development, with individual competency statements within each domain category.

Task #3

Consider if you would like your program objectives organized by domain.

Because the program objectives are the cornerstone of your curriculum, spending time and effort to “get these right” will make your subsequent CI work easier. Edits to your program objectives should be made carefully and thoughtfully, as each edit will have a “trickle down” effect on your curricular content, course and event-level learning objectives, instruction, and assessment, etc.

There are a variety of approaches available for writing learning objectives well. If you are editing your program objectives and looking for writing guidance regarding learning objectives, the virtual curriculum community has a library of resources regarding writing learning objectives.

It will be helpful to have your Curriculum Committee or similar oversight body approve the current program objectives, and to establish a periodic review of the program objectives and their related CI data, once your CI is built.

Task #4

Bring your finalized program objectives to your curriculum oversight body.

Once your program objectives are established, you may consider assigning them meaningful ID codes. Program objective ID codes are not required for your CI upload, but it may be helpful for you to recognize and sort your curriculum content if meaningful ID codes for your learning objectives are used.

For example, if you have three program objectives related to interpersonal and communication skills, meaningful ID codes could be COMM-1, COMM-2, and COMM-3. Numerical ID codes such as 98373747 may not be as meaningful as the number would not necessarily tell you what portion of the curriculum it was related to. How ID codes are built and managed will vary depending on the technical platform you use.

Task #5

Consider assigning meaningful ID codes to your program objectives.

When deciding how to document your program objectives, it may be helpful to review how your program objectives will be displayed in your Verification Report, once you successfully upload your CI data to AAMC. 

view a Sample Verification Report

Key Questions on Program Objectives Drive Curriculum

  1. What models, if any, did we consult or use as inspiration, when drafting our program objectives, and how did we use the model(s)?
  2. What is our system for assigning ID codes to our program objectives? What is our system for organizing our program objectives, perhaps by domain?
  3. What is our final, edited, and approved program objectives list, and do we have up to date links to the PCRS competencies?
  4. Are our program objectives up to date and regularly reviewed and approved?
  5. Are our program objectives written in descriptive, specific, and outcomes-based language?
  6. Are our program objectives aligned with our school’s mission, vision, culture, and patient population?
  7. Are there any curriculum gaps in our program objectives that we need to address with edits? Were any gaps identified through our PCRS linking process? Do our program objectives accurately capture the required curriculum?

Got questions or feedback? Let us know at ci@aamc.org.

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