University of Pittsburgh

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How Do I Create a Mini-Elective for First and Second Year Students?

Mini-electives for first and second year medical students are a terrific way for faculty to become involved in teaching about an area of special interest or expertise. Students have enthusiastically embraced these courses as an opportunity for low risk exploration of topics that are not typically available to students, especially to students in the pre-clinical years.

Developing a new mini-elective is a fairly straightforward process. Interested faculty may wish to begin by reviewing descriptions of existing mini-electives on this website. It is then advisable to discuss course ideas with Dr. John Mahoney, Associate Dean for Medical Education, to explore the feasibility of the proposal and learn more about the logistics of conducting one of these brief courses.

  • Specific questions to consider include:
  • Why run a mini-elective?
  • Is this content already presented in the curriculum? Does it build on the existing first or second year course work?
  • Is help needed from other faculty? Are there any special resources needed?
  • How can the material be presented to make it stimulating and educational for students, whether this is a subject that will become a lifelong interest or the only exposure that they will ever have?

Course Description

While creating a mini-elective, the prospective course director will be asked to develop a brief course description that includes an overview statement of what the course is about, a small number of learning objectives, and a specific agenda about how the course will function. Since this is a new course proposal, the description must contain sufficient content for students to make an individual assessment about how the course will meet their needs. It is also essential that the course description spell out what obligations the students will have, including classroom time and any out-of-class preparation such as reading or writing assignments.

When are these courses held?

During the first and second years, students have two afternoons per week with no scheduled course activities. These times are generally reserved for self-directed learning, including preparation for PBL sessions, participation in areas of concentration, and work on the scholarly project. Mini-elective courses are also scheduled to run during these time slots. On a given day, two thirds of students are potentially available to attend the class, and one-third of students are occupied in required course work within the Introduction to Patient Care block.

Both first and second year students have self-directed learning afternoons on Mondays and Fridays. First year students also have self-directed learning on Thursday afternoons. Second year students also have self-directed learning on Tuesday afternoons. Wednesday afternoons are not available for mini-electives.

The typical mini-elective runs for four to six two-hour sessions. Because of other curricular obligations, such as major course examinations, mini-elective schedules typically spread the sessions over a longer number of weeks. For example, it may take seven calendar weeks to conduct a four-session mini-elective.

For additional information or assistance in developing a mini-elective offering, please contact Betsy Nero or Dr. Mahoney at the Office of Medical Education, (412) 648-8714.