School of Medicine
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
1: What is “special” about BUSM?
- There are several aspects of our school and our medical campus that are unusual, if not unique. Among them are the following:
- A very strong research environment. We are 12th among US medical schools in NIH faculty research support. This research effort is very wide-ranging, addressing an unusually diverse range of issues including wet-bench basic science, public health and clinical epidemiology, translational research, and a special focus on health disparities.
- Early introduction of patient contact for students. Students begin their clinical work during the first week of the 1st year curriculum.
- A diverse faculty and student body. Our diversity is a reflection of our mission as an inner-city medical center, our commitment to diversity as an essential element in teaching cultural competence for physicians, and our special curricular tracks and combined degree programs. Our students and faculty bring to the campus a wide array of backgrounds, previous life experiences, and professional goals.
- Very strong clinical training for medical students. The clinical experience is based in core training at Boston Medical Center and includes both ambulatory and inpatient work. Students have an experience in supervised decision-making responsibility at a level commensurate with their own knowledge and skills.
- The clinical training at BUSM covers an unusual breadth and depth. BUSM is the only one of the 3 medical schools in Boston to have a Department of Family Medicine, and we also have large programs in primary care within the departments of Medicine and Pediatrics. These exist alongside some of the most respected emergency medicine, tertiary care and subspecialty programs in the US.
- The unifying theme of the BUSM experience is that medicine and the health sciences exist in a larger social context. Students learn to care for, and to care about people wholly unlike themselves. This imperative for cultural competence is a uniquely challenging and rewarding aspect of our programs.
- One of the most important aspects of the BUSM experience is the diversity of students, faculty, institutions, patients, and communities we serve. Our students are all exceptionally well qualified academically, and all bring important nonacademic contributions to the school community. Many of our students have majored outside the biological sciences and have pursued a variety of personal and professional activities. The current first year class was drawn from a pool of over 9000 applicants, coming by way of 6 pathways to the MD degree. The group includes graduates of 70 undergraduate institutions, representing 30 states in the US and 23 countries of origin.
- In addition to BUSM, our medical campus also includes the School of Public Health, the Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine, the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences, the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center (named for a BUSM alumnus, the first African American psychiatrist in America and a member of BUSM faculty for more than 30 years), the Boston Public Health Commission, and of course our principal teaching hospital, Boston Medical Center. In aggregate the campus hosts approximately 2000 students and 650 post-graduate trainees, representing virtually every specialty and discipline in contemporary health care.
- BUSM has the distinction of having more pathways to the MD degree than any other medical school in the US. In addition to the traditional 4-year MD program, we support an alternative curriculum, a 7-year program (SMED), an early selection program (EMSSP), two modular undergraduate/MD programs (MMEDIC, ENGMEDIC), as well as a number of combined degree programs (MD/PhD, MD/MPH, MD/MBA). There is no “typical” BUSM student, and we all come to this community expecting to give something of ourselves in exchange for the special challenges and rewards we find in this eclectic environment.
- Students are at BUSM because they have chosen to be here. They are very capable, motivated, and invested in the work we do together. In general students are quite collegial and cohesive. There are numerous examples of academic collaboration and shared social activities. The multiple pathways enumerated above give rise to a very diverse student body, with variable course loads during the first 3 semesters. Students with smaller course loads have opportunities to participate in research, serve as tutors or prosectors, and engage in a variety of academic enrichment programs. Dr. Phyllis Carr and the staff of the Office of Student Affairs are very committed to providing a supportive and flexible environment. Through programs for advising and mentoring, career counseling, tutoring, and through cooperation with the student government (SCOMSA), a broad foundation is built to enhance the personal and professional growth of our students.
- Once again, given the many clinical, educational, and research programs on the BU Medical Campus, it is no surprise that the faculty are similarly diverse. The rapid growth of our programs over the last 10 years cultivated a faculty with strengths both among the most senior and experienced scholars as well as among the youngest clinicians, investigators, and teachers.
- Faculty at BUSM are particularly known for their accessibility and their commitment to the success of every student. Graduates who pursue their post-graduate clinical training elsewhere regularly report that the clinical faculty they worked with at BUSM are “the best anywhere.”
- BUSM is proud of its curriculum and the process by which it is reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. For example, curriculum and grading system changes put in place for the 1st year 1 year ago reflect the work of a faculty-student committee that met in the spring of the previous year.
- The curriculum at BUSM is a hybrid of a traditional, lecture-based program and a small group, problem-based seminar approach. The first year of the program is largely focused on normal structure and function, and the second year is primarily devoted to abnormal anatomy and pathophysiology. During both of these basic science years, a mix of lectures, laboratories, discussion groups, and problem based seminars is used in an integrated fashion. In addition, clinical experiences begin very early in the first year with Introduction to Clinical Medicine 1 and 2. The second year culminates in a semester-long series of lectures, small group discussions, seminars and demonstrations organized on an organ system basis. This course, called Biology of Disease, is taught by the clinical faculty with whom students will be working in the clerkships of the third year. The course brings together all of the basic sciences and demonstrates their application to the practice of modern medicine. The influence of the School of Public Health, the Health Law Institute, and programs in other health care disciplines are evident in a variety of course offerings throughout the basic science years.
- The third year is comprised largely of the core clinical clerkships. The fourth year includes a small number of required advanced clinical experiences and a larger number of clinical electives. Fourth year students design their own curriculum in consultation with their advisors, working within flexible guidelines established by the faculty. One of the most powerful experiences of the clinical years is the rotation on the Boston University Geriatrics Service, during which students provide supervised clinical services to home-bound elders in the neighborhoods of Boston. This is the oldest home care agency in the US and generations of BUSM alumni share the experience of having made house calls in this remarkable program.
- The clinical training at BUSM is based at Boston Medical Center (BMC), our principle teaching hospital. BMC is a large, full service institution, providing primary, secondary, and tertiary care. During the year 2002, BMC provided over 28,000 hospital admissions, 18,000 ambulatory surgical procedures, 117,000 emergency department visits, and 660,000 ambulatory patient care visits. The institution serves a mix of patients from the City of Boston, as well as a large number of referrals from outside the city. During their clinical training, students become members of clinical teams practicing in all areas, representing all disciplines, and see an extraordinary range of patients, disorders, and challenges. BUSM has been known, for many decades, as a preeminent school for clinical training, reflecting the depth and breadth of the clinical practice, as well as the well-defined and structured role for students in the care of patients.
- In recent years, the pass rate among first-time takers at BUSM has been 92-95%. The mean scores for BUSM students are also consistently above the national average.
- In each of the last several years we have conducted a survey of our graduating students who participated in the match. By their own report, 85% matched to one of their top 4 choices, and 92% were satisfied or very satisfied with the results of the Match. Each year, a number of graduating BUSM students (15-25 per year) choose to pursue their internship and residency within the BU system. Considering the national reputation of many of our post-graduate training programs, this speaks well both for the students and the training programs.
- BU students have, for many years, been considered strong candidates for the most competitive post-graduate training programs. The scope of clinical training at BUSM is widely recognized as outstanding preparation for a rigorous internship and residency.
- Most of the 4th year of the curriculum is elective clinical time and students have broad flexibility in choosing rotations outside the BU system. In addition, Dr. Sarfaty, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, has responsibility for our international elective program, assisting students in securing electives all over the world. This program is considered a national model, has been replicated at other schools, and there is no limit on the number of students who can participate. Limited funding is available to defer part of the cost of international electives for some students.
- BUSM is a very large research institution, with an unusually broad and diverse research agenda. Students have opportunities to participate in many areas, and significant numbers of students do so. There is a summer research stipend program, providing modest financial support for students doing 6-10 week research electives during the summer between 1st and 2nd year.
- The broad-based, rigorous education at BUSM supports career aspirations in virtually any clinical or health sciences discipline. Over a period of many decades, BUSM alumni have taken on leadership positions in research, clinical practice, academics, and public service. A significant number of our graduates pursue careers in academic medicine, as investigators and educators, while many others move into full time clinical careers. The culture of public service at BUSM is reflected in the career choices of many of our graduates.
- There are very few places that can match Boston as a place to study medicine. Boston is home to 3 medical schools, 10 major teaching hospitals, and the largest biomedical industrial complex in the US, along with several schools of public health, and a number of large research institutions. BUSM students have opportunities to attend academic and social events at other institutions and during the clinical years BUSM students frequently work with students, interns, and residents from other schools.
- Boston is a relatively small city, but hosts over 250,000 full time students during the academic year. There are scores of educational, cultural, and recreational opportunities in and around Boston. There is good public transportation in the city and although housing is expensive, there are a number of options that students can consider, both on-campus and in the neighborhoods of the city. Boston is a diverse, fun, student-friendly city!
- Advising is organized within a structure of 6 Academies. Each entering student joins an academy and is assigned a peer student advisor and a faculty advisor from the group. Academy-based activities are organized to facilitate the development of strong personal and professional relationships among the students and faculty in the academy, and students meet regularly with their advisor and any other faculty they may choose to approach. In addition, specialty-specific advisors chosen by students as they begin to refine their career goals during the clinical clerkships of the 3rd year. Dr. Phyllis Carr, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, along with 4 assistant deans in her office, is responsible for ensuring that each student has appropriate guidance and support. Dr. Ken Edelin, Associate Dean for Student and Minority Affairs, is a leader, both locally and nationally, in the effort to develop a physician work force reflective of our diverse society and to develop a curriculum in cultural competency for medical students. In addition, academic tutoring and support is available for any interested student, and numerous members of the faculty in the School of Medicine, School of Public Health, and the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences, mentor students with research interests.
- Perhaps more important than the formal programs, is the fact that our faculty are extremely accessible. Both in the basic sciences, as well as in the clinical disciplines, faculty at BUSM share a deep commitment to our students and to their success as medical students and physicians. Individual faculty demonstrate this commitment in many ways, including their willingness to advise and mentor students throughout their tenure on our campus.
- BUSM is in the group of private, non-profit medical schools in the US that do not receive any public funds to support their educational programs. This group of schools has no obligation to discriminate among applicants on the basis of geography of residence, and therefore have the opportunity to select a very diverse student body. Unfortunately, this also means that the cost of each student’s education must be covered by institutional funds, with no local, state, or federal government support for student education. At the national level, it is estimated that tuition currently covers only 35%-50% of the cost of educating an individual student. The picture at BUSM is no different, and the school makes up the gap through research grants, training grants, institutional funds, endowment income, and gifts of various types. Although our medical school shares a campus with the hospital, the school of public health, the dental school, and several other institutions, the finances and budgets of these programs are all entirely separate.
- Through the efforts of Dean Aram Chobanian and the Trustees of Boston University, tuition at BUSM has not increased for the last 3 years. This has allowed student debt to stabilize, and BUSM has slipped down in the national ranking of the cost of medical schools. Dr. Chobanian has declared that tuition support and scholarship aid are the highest fund raising priorities at BUSM and a major effort is underway to increase the institutional funds available to help students and families cover the cost of a BUSM education.
- The Office of Student Financial Services (OSFS), under the leadership of Kathy Stavropoulos, is charged with ensuring that every student at BUSM is able to graduate with a manageable educational debt. Through the use of need-based scholarships and loans, the professional staff of the OSFS assists each individual student in assembling a financing package that works for him or her. Students may apply for National Health Service Corps funds and military service scholarships to finance their education and thereby graduate with little or no debt. In addition, the OSFS has a very active off-campus housing program to assist students in locating appropriate and affordable places to live. As an institution we are concerned with the cost of medical education and are working vigorously to help students reduce the amount of debt they accumulate during the course of their studies.
- Parking is limited and expensive in Boston, including on the BUSM campus. While many students choose to have a car, there is no requirement to do so. Public transportation in Boston is very good and most off-campus sites for training during the first 2 years are readily accessible. Many students car-pool for these occasional off-campus sessions. The clinical training during the 3rd and 4th years takes students somewhat further afield, and while some people manage without a car, many students find it more convenient to have one. Parking for 3rd and 4th year students is more readily available on-campus.
- The extracurricular activities and student organizations on campus are as varied as our student body, and approximately 85% of our students participate in one or more of them. A very abbreviated list of popular activities includes the American Medical Student Association, The Outreach Van Project (providing basic medical care for homeless people in Boston), The Anna Bissonnette House Project (caring for frail elders), The Boston Area Health Education Center (paid and volunteer health-related activities in the community), The Creative Arts Society, Student Committee on Medical School Affairs (SCOMSA, the student government), The Primary Care Society, Medical Students for Choice, The Family Medicine Interest Group, Domestic Violence Awareness Project, International Health Organization, and the Pediatric Education and Development Society, and WHORL (literary and arts magazine).
- The most important negative feature of BUSM is the cost. As outlined above, the faculty, the administration, and the Alumni Association are working hard to bring down the cost and the debt assumed by students, but this is a slow process. Current and past students who have made a thoughtful decision about coming to BUSM, weighing the cost against the strength of the experience and the career-long return on the investment, generally conclude that BUSM was the right choice for them.
- The multiple pathways described above (#2) produce a varied and interesting faculty and student body which contribute a great deal to the experience of a BUSM education. However, this diversity in educational background also leads to a variable course load during the first year, and in the past some students felt that the Honors/Pass/Fail grading system encouraged unnecessary competitiveness. In the fall of 2003 a revised grading system, with a strict Pass/Fail model was implemented for the first year curriculum. This change appears to have eliminated the problem of grading inequity during the first year.