The Yale System of Medical Education remains unique among medical schools. It has been an important part of life at the Yale School of Medicine since 1931. Although it has undergone minor modifications in the intervening years, its essential spirit has remained intact and it is a major reason why many students choose to come to Yale for their medical education.
The fundamental element of the system is the concept that medical students are mature individuals, strongly motivated to learn, requiring guidance and stimulation rather than compulsion or competition. The corollary of this concept is that students must assume more than usual responsibility for their education. Students should be considered adults in a graduate school and be permitted to enjoy as large a degree of freedom as is consistent with the fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Memorization of facts should be far less important than a well-rounded education in fundamental principles, training in methods of investigation, and the acquisition of the scientific habit of mind.
Thus, attendance is not taken, and much basic science instruction occurs in small-group seminars or conferences. Students evaluate themselves through optional, anonymous examinations. Their performance is assessed by the faculty through participation in seminars, by an anonymous (but coded) qualifying examination at the end of each course, by performance on clinical clerkships, and by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLE).
In the first two years, there are no grades and there is no class ranking. While grades are not given and rank order not established, evaluation of students is an important part of the educational process. The faculty considers small-group teaching with interchange between faculty and students to be the most effective means of teaching and evaluation. Students should expect direct questioning at seminars and laboratories as an important adjunct to the evaluation process. The final decision of acceptable performance for a given course remains with the chairman of the department and/or the designated director of the course.
Freed from concerns about class rank, students tend to learn for their future rather than for tests. Competition for grades is eliminated and students are eager to help one another. Class spirit is remarkably high year after year.
Students are encouraged to allocate their time to further their own interests, within the framework of the Yale curriculum. Some students pursue elective courses or a joint degree program in another school at Yale University, such as management, public health, divinity, or law.
In recognizing the special needs of students who take on the responsibility of bearing and raising children, Yale allows students to take extended study or an official leave of absence for this reason during their medical education.
Finally, the Yale School of Medicine requires each student to complete an original research thesis. This important component of the Yale System is designed to foster critical thinking skills and lead to development of a lifelong commitment to learning.
Optional Fifth Year
Although the majority complete the program in four academic years, a significant number of students make special arrangements to study for an additional tuition-free year. This time may be spent in research at Yale, another university, or an institute abroad.