The University of Pittsburgh is nestled in the “lovely” (not really it has a more gritty urban feel) Oakland disctrict of “Blitzburgh”. Oakland is the city’s cultural and medical center (also includes the University of Pittsburgh undergrad campus, Carnegie Mellon, and Carlow College). There are seven hospitals (Presby, Montefiore, Eye&Ear Institute, Women-Magee’s, Children’s, VA, and Western Psych) within about one square mile. Most of them are connected by tunnels and bridges, which is nice during inclement weather. They are just now completing a brand new hospital for the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute across the street from Shadyside Hospital (a UPMC affiliated community hospital about 3 miles from the main medical campus-Shadyside is known as “Club Shadyside” to those fortunate enough to do a Medicine Clerkship there)

Pitt is probably best known as a research school but it also has a strong primary care focus. Our longest 3rd year rotation (the never-ending rotation) is CAMC (Community Ambulatory Medicine Clerkship) which is twelve weeks of outpatient (three weeks each of Internal Medicine, Family Practice, Pediatrics and a primary care selective) medicine. We spend that time in primary care offices all over western Pennsylvania. Pitt was also the first medical school in the country to endow a Chair of Patient/Doctor Relationship. (another first this week-Pitt was the first medical school to form a fully independent department of Critical Care Medicine).

First and second year is a lot of PBL (one of our Dean’s travels all over the world “selling” the PBL system Pitt uses). It’s Organ Based and it’s Honors/Pass/Fail. There was a push to go to straight pass/fail but the way they do grading it didn’t really make much difference so it kind of died out. The administation is super supportive and very responsive to student feedback (almost too responsive at times…it seems that they’ve gone back and forth on some things depending on the feedback of various classes). The students themselves are very non-competitive, and cohesive. There are several student run organizations (clinics etc…) and ample time to participate. There are endless research opportunities (PBL is also a great way to get to know faculty members…each PBL group of 9 students spends a lot of time with faculty and they are constantly making offers to shadow, do research etc… The PBL facilitators aren’t limited to junior faculty either, several department heads, residency directors and big time researchers participate). One of the nicest things (for older students that have been away from school awhile) about the curriculum is that they use a block system rather than a semester/quarter system. So…lets take the first (real) block…the dreaded Anatomy. For six weeks we lived basic general anatomy, labs, lectures, and PBLs and thats pretty much it (well except for Epidemiology one afternoon a week-oh yeah we generally got two afternoons a week off for SDL (self directed learning)). So for pretty much the whole year you only have to worry about one hard-core class at a time. Once six weeks of anatomy was done we moved on to six weeks of biochem. The killer though is that at the end of 12 weeks we had our first Summative Exam (comprehensive of all biochem and anatomy - sounds imposing but it is doable).

The first two weeks of first year was orientation/introduction to medicine (no studying at all) which amounted to daily seminars on various major diseases. After a overview lecture we broke into PBL groups and each group interviewed a patient with that disease to get a sense of what it was like to have AIDS/Cystic Fibrosis/Breast Cancer etc…then we’d get back together and report on our discoveries. The last part of the week covers underserved populations and public health. There are several communities around Pittsburgh that were devestated by the decline of the Steel Industry…during that portion of the week we went out into those communities and in small groups toured social service or community resource groups.

Also during first year we start clinical skills and ambulatory care. In Clinical skills we practice the basics on each other then they move us up to one of the hospital to practice on generous inpatients. In ambulatory care we spend one afternoon a week in a primary care office doing whatever the doctor feels comfortable letting us do.

When I was interviewing here a student told me that the new Dean’s philosophy was that we would forget half of what we learned in medical school. So rather than have us remember a random 50% he wanted to distill the curriculum down to the most important 50% and teach that. The philosophy seems to be working. An interviewee told me last year that we’ve had a 99.9% pass rate on the USMLE step I for the last five years.

As far as older students are concerned there are quite a few of us. The adcom loves people with interesting stories. The cool thing is that there is a lot of intermingling as far as socializing and studying goes between the “generations”.

(Edited by tonem at 3:40 pm on Feb. 22, 2002)

Wow! I’m impressed by the realistic attitude of your dean and the service oriented aspect of the curiculum. Sounds like a great school.

This is great information for when I someday apply to medical school. I live an hour away from Pittsburgh. Please tell more when you get time.


After I interviewed at Pitt, I was very impressed with it also. It seems like a really cool place to go to school. It is my top choice of places where I have been accepted even over Columbia.

Congratulations on your acceptances. If you chose Pitt, I’m sure you won’t be dissapointed. I think I’m gonna miss this place when I’m done with school next year.