Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Educational Pipeline Program

About the Program


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Figure 1. Timeline of events in the history of the Pipeline Educational Program. Click image to enlarge.

The Perelman School of Medicine Educational Pipeline Program was founded by Dr. Karen Hamilton in 1998 as part of Project 3000 by 2000, an ambitious program launched by the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Division of Community and Minority Programs, with the goal of increasing the matriculation of underrepresented minorities in medical school. The initial clinical focus of the program was neurology. The Pipeline program originally drew high school students from Thomas A. Edison and Overbrook high schools. Students at these schools are predominantly African American or Hispanic and financially disadvantaged. In 2003 the Pipeline program combined forces with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships in order to form a strong and enduring relationship with Sayre High School in West Philadelphia, which is now the program’s primary partner school. While the neurology curriculum has remained a strong and constant focus of the Pipeline, the program has also featured separate curricula for students focusing on other clinical specialties, including cardiology, infectious disease, gastroenterology, and most recently epidemiology. The Perelman School of Medicine Educational Pipeline Program takes place during the spring semester; students are brought to the medical school one afternoon per week for 90-minute sessions.

The Teachers

groupEach year the Pipeline Neuroscience Program recruits eight to ten University of Pennsylvania undergraduates and ten to twenty-five medical students per class (i.e. neurology, gastroenterology, etc.). A single senior medical student serves as a logistical coordinator for each program, ensuring its smooth day-to-day operation. Physicians—faculty members, residents, and fellows—also participate in the program, overseeing the development of clinical cases that are the foundation of the curriculum.

The Students

According to recent data from the School District of Philadelphia, approximately 98-99% of Sayre are African American and about, 60% of Sayre students, are eligible for the Federal School Lunch Program. The demographics of students participating in the program closely reflect those of their school. A faculty coordinator affiliated with Sayre selects students for the spring semester School of Medicine program based on their interest and on their level of engagement in a fall-semester introductory medical science curriculum taught by University of Pennsylvania undergraduates as part of Sayre’s science curriculum. Undergraduate students who excel as educators and mentors in the fall-semester curriculum are encouraged to fill the undergraduate TA positions available in the Pipeline spring-semester program.

The Courses

Pipeline classes are held at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine on a weekly basis during the spring semester. Physicians work with teams of medical students to create the clinical vignettes around which the class is structured and give preparatory lectures to the medical students and undergraduates in order to enrich their understanding of the subject matter and help them generate ideas for teaching the high school lessons (Figure 2). Physicians also intermittently attend the high school class sessions, serving as a teaching resource for the medical students and undergraduates. Classes are 90 minutes long.

Figure 2. Schematic of the teaching pathway of the Pipeline Neurology Program, summarizing the roles and responsibilities of neurology housestaff, medical students, and undergraduates.The same model applies to other Pipeline curricula. (Reprinted with permission from Hamilton et al., 2007.) Click image to enlarge.

Small teams of first- and fourth-year medical student lead the classes for the high school students. The fourth-year medical students have completed a pre-clinical courses related to the curriculum that they are teaching, while the first-year medical students are generally taking the pre-clinical neuroscience course at the same time that they teach the Pipeline course. Undergraduate students act as TAs, with each undergraduate TA leading a small group of two to four high school students during class activities. These small groups are maintained throughout the semester, facilitating strong mentoring relationships between the undergraduates and high school students. Approximately half of each 90-minute class is run by the medical students, while half is dedicated to small group lessons or activities run by the undergraduates.

Since 2005, the small groups of high school students have concluded each year’s course by giving oral presentations on topics in clinical medicine. Undergraduates assume the primary responsibility of assisting their small groups in reviewing the medical literature, performing internet searches, preparing Powerpoint slides, and practicing public speaking skills. The final public speaking exercise is attended by the high school students’ parents and faculty from the University of Pennsylvania.