University of Pittsburgh
Combined Clinical Years

Changing Science, Changing Society: A Guide to 21st Century Medicine (MSELCT 5700)

4 weeks

Course Director
William Walker, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences

Course Director
Penelope Morel, MD
Department of Immunology

Course Director
Allison Dekosky, MD
Assistant Professor
Department of Medicine

Course Director
Maria Guyette, MD, MPPM
Assistant Professor
Department of Emergency Medicine


Course Description

The “CSCS” course incorporates curriculum content and learning experiences that focus on two key areas: timely advances in basic and translational science and social determinants of health. This integrated course provides an opportunity to examine these topics in depth, and from multiple perspectives. For a given topic, the presentations and workshops will address multiple dimensions. For example, the unit on vaccine development tackles both the science of the latest breakthroughs and the ethical challenges that will arise when a physician is counseling a parent who is considering not vaccinating their child against a serious disease.  Sessions related to molecular medicine will illuminate how these innovations are transforming the approach to previously untreatable conditions.

Most course topics are presented in concise modules that span one or two days. A typical unit will include an element of background preparation (e.g., a video presentation or reading assignment); small group case discussions and workshop sessions; and a large group panel discussion or key topic lecture. 

The goals of the course are:

  • Students will be familiar with key advances in basic and translational science that can be applies to patient care.
  • Students will be able to discuss the ethical, legal, and social issues associated with biomedical innovations such as genetic testing, genome, editing, novel drug therapies, and molecular medicine.
  • Students will be prepared to consider and address social determinants of health as they care for patients.
  • Students will be able to discuss the ethical challenges faced by health care organizations and public health agencies. Students will be able to discuss the public policy.


The Capstone Project on Advocacy in Health Policy and Social Determinants of Health will be developed over the four weeks of the course. Students will select a subject from a menu of current legislative subjects, and work in small groups to research the subject, select a viewpoint, and develop advocacy talking points and briefing materials. Once prepared, the class will travel to Washington to meet with legislators and staffers for a University of Pittsburgh Social Determinants of Health Advocacy Day. This trip is scheduled for the Thursday and Friday of the final week of the course.

COURSE TOPICS (tentative list)

  • Genome editing (including CRISPR/Cas9)
  • Rational vaccine development (including discussing vaccination with patients, and re-emergent infectious diseases)
  • Personalized medicine and pharmacogenomics (including whole genome and exome sequencing, direct-to-consumer testing, and making the patient connection: how to explain genomic testing to your patient)
  • Cancer risk prediction
  • Beyond chemotherapy: new cancer therapeutics (including molecular and immunotherapy)
  • New perspectives on old problems: Infection, Inflammation and the Microbiome
  • Hepatitis C drug development: science and controversy
  • Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering
  • Frontiers in the understanding and treatment of brain disorders
  • Pain, addiction and the opioid epidemic
  • Incorporating social determinants of health into practice: Micro, Meso and Macro levels
  • Psychosocial and behavioral determinants of health and health care
  • Access to health care and relationship of socioeconomic differences to health status
  • Environment, health and illness (safety, food deserts, education, transportation)
  • The evolution of health care insurance (Affordable Care Act, et al)
  • Caring for diverse populations
  • Advocacy in health policy – Capstone in Washington

Educational Methods

Small group sessions Case discussions Capstone Project Lectures
Video presentations Panel discussions SP Workshops

Journal Clubs

Community site meetings Patient Interviews        


Grading is Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory

Faculty Note

Course Director William Walker, PhD; Course Director Penelope Morel, MD; Peggy Hasley, MD, MHSc; Jonathan Finder, MD; and John Mahoney, MD are all recipients of the Sheldon Adler Award for Innovation. Diemthuy Bui, MD is a recipient of the Kenneth E. Schuit Master Educator Award. In addition, Drs. Bui, Mahoney, Rosenstock, Hasley, and Finder, are members of the UPSOM Academy of Master Educators.