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The pre-clinical years at UCSD are Pass/Fail. And they truly are-- there is no internal ranking system and the collaborative efforts that arise out of this are truly heartwarming. Each day our own class FB page and GroupMe is overwhelmed with our classmates sharing flashcard decks, study guides, and YouTube resources (amongst a fair share of memes and medical puns.)

UCSD SOM teaches medicine in the pre-clinical years by using the organ-systems based approach. Every 2-5 weeks, students will be learning about a particular organ system and every aspect of the curriculum (histology, anatomy, case-studies) will revolve around that organ system. In the first year, students learn about the physiology--what is normal,  and in the second year, students learn the pathophysiology of diseases--what is abnormal.

The basic format of the pre-clinical curriculum can be divided into 4 basic categories: Lecture, Small Groups, Practice of Medicine, and Lab as well as individual student electives. The time we devote to each specific division varies somewhat depending  on the organ system. There are also "threads" incorporated into the core curriculum, such as Health Equity, Pharmacology, and Ultrasound.



Presenter Format

This form of lecture is perhaps the format you are most familiar with from your undergraduate studies. Lecturers, experts within their respective organ-system, will give 1-2 hour long powerpoint presentations with a 10 minute break in between. Questions are encouraged during and after lectures. All lectures are podcasted with corresponding slides. In-class attendance is optional. 

Team Based Learning

Perhaps you are familiar with "Clicker Questions" from your undergraduate studies. This particular lecture format is part guided lecture and part group problem set.  Each student is assigned to a particular group and location within the lecture hall to work on guided questions "Live." This form of learning is particularly useful in more calculation heavy blocks such as cardiovascular, renal and hematology. Attendance is technically optional, but most students find this format engaging and worthwhile. Many of the specific application of lecture topics occur during these sessions. 


Problem Based Learning (PBL)

Arguably the most unique teaching modality in medical school, PBL teaches students to approach problems like physicians. Each week, student groups are presented with a patient whose symptoms correspond with the current organ system block. With the guidance of a faculty member, student groups explore the case with the ultimate goal of reaching a correct diagnosis. Attendance is required.

Small Group Conferences

These sessions provide an opportunity for students to apply concepts learned in lecture to a problem set. Led by a faculty member that is an expert in the topic, small-group conferences present problems that are quite similar to those seen on an exam. Typically 1-2 hours, students work together to solve the problems during the first hour, and present to the group during the second. Attendance is required


Small Group


POM small groups are formed from academic communities during the first year and stay together through second year. Jointly led by a practicing physician and a psychologist, POM groups provide an opportunity for students to discuss both the personal and the professional, in addition to practicing patient encounters. Groups become quite close, and a high level of trust is often built. Attendance is required. 

POM lectures focus on a variety of different topics. Some lectures demonstrate aspects of various physical examinations, while others focus on the social determinants of health or professional development. All lectures are recorded and posted with corresponding slides. In class attendance is optional. 


Practice of Medicine (POM) is truly foundational to your future career as a physician. POM focuses on teaching you the clinical and interpersonal skills required to interact with patients from a variety of backgrounds. 


Ah, GOSCES--graded observed structured clinical examinations. Designed to prepare us for Step 2 and beyond, these sessions students practice interacting with patients with a variety of temperaments and clinical conditions. Students receive feedback from both faculty members (who watch via video recording) and fellow students. Attendance is required. 


ACA stands for ambulatory care apprenticeship. Students are paired with a local physician (typically a primary care practitioner) for two years. With the guide of their preceptor, students practice navigating patient visits and ultimately gaining clinical independence. Students create their own schedules. A typical ACA schedule is twice a month for 4-5 hours on a weekday afternoon.



Anatomy lab is for some the most memorable part of first year. Groups of five students are assigned to a cadaver. Students complete dissections corresponding to the current organ system (frequency depends on the block). Surgeons, anatomists, and 4th year medical students are available as resources while in lab, and students have 24/7 access to the lab outside of class. Attendance is required. 


Visually engaging and self-directed, histology labs are quite different from lecture. In labs students review tissue slides with an emphasis during the first year of recognizing what is "normal." During the second year, students focus on tissue pathology. Not to mention, the course director is a riot. Attendance is required. 

For more information on the curriculum for your clinical years (3rd and 4th year), please refer to UCSD SOM's website: 


Luckily, our curriculum has basically stayed the same throughout the pandemic (including in person anatomy!) 

The few changes that have been made are: 

  • PBL and POM are mostly over zoom, with some in person small group work

  • Majority of block lectures are pre-recorded, with some live zoom classes and team based learning sessions (prior to COVID, all lectures were recorded and posted-- so this isn't much a change!)

For more information on how COVID-19 has affected UCSD SOM, check out the COVID-19 tab in the menu bar.

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