The Duke School of Medicine’s specialized curriculum is drawing attention from other medical schools across the country.

Aspects of the medical school’s four-year curriculum, which focuses more on practical application than memorization, are being implemented by medical schools nationwide. Duke’s current curriculum—established in 1966 after a major curricular overhaul—allows students to spend a year doing research and involves a more condensed training in the basic sciences. The curriculum regularly draws upon the suggestions of more than 100 students and faculty members about the program’s content, methodology and goals, wrote Dr. Edward Buckley, vice dean for education, in an email.

“Memorizing facts went out years ago,” Buckley said. “What we strive for is vocabulary, context, principles and experience. We are always looking for new ideas, and we adopt what some others have done if appropriate.”

Duke’s distinctive model is influencing medical schools throughout the country. Recent changes to the curricula of both Harvard Medical School and the Yale School of Medicine abbreviate the time students spend studying the basic sciences, thus allotting students more time to explore their medical and research interests. Dr. Nancy Andrews, dean of the Duke School of Medicine and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said that after the changes, Harvard’s curriculum now “looks a lot like Duke’s” in an article by the Harvard Crimson.

Institutions like the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Stanford University School of Medicine have also decided to integrate research opportunities into their curricula like Duke does with its year devoted to research.

“All schools change,” Buckley wrote. “Some faster than others. We have been leaders in this domain.”

Medical students at Duke are trained in the basic sciences during their first 11 months, instead of the two years allotted by many other medical programs. This allows students to more quickly gain clinical exposure in their second year, wrote fourth-year medical student Jessica Friedman in an email.

“In medical school, the most rigorous instruction comes not from lectures and textbooks, but from seeing patients,” she wrote. “But it can take a while to adjust to this. You have to figure out how to supplement what you’re seeing in clinic or on the wards with reading [and coursework].”

The medical school has also implemented applied learning approaches such as flipped classrooms and team-based exercises, she added.

“I have not found a single professor here who believes in memorization for the sake of memorization,” Friedman wrote. “I fundamentally believe that all of them value application of knowledge.”

Scholarly research—either in a lab or through the medical school’s dual-degree programs—is the focus of the third year, said Morgan Hardy, a third-year medical student.

Both Hardy and Friedman enrolled in the medical school’s dual-degree Epidemiology and Public Health Study Program, which allows medical students to spend their third year earning a master’s degree in public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hardy noted that this opportunity differentiates Duke from its peer institutions.

Another popular choice for third-year students is obtaining a master’s degree in business administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Hardy said.

“The unique thing about Duke is that they have so many good graduate schools right here,” Hardy said. “[We] also have a really strong connection with UNC, so any programs that Duke doesn’t offer that UNC does are accessible to Duke students.”

Fourth-year students tie their experiences together by exploring different aspects of medicine through unique electives, Friedman explained.

Delbert Wigfall, associate dean for medical education, wrote in an email that Duke’s goal is to develop well-qualified leaders in fields like medical education, patient care and basic and biomedical research.

“We have been very successful in training leaders in primary and specialty care, public policy and medical advocacy, and have remained solidly one of the top institutions in the country,” he wrote.