Overview of Programs

What is an AOC Program?

These elective programs, initiated in 1997, are designed to supplement and complement the required medical curriculum at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The AOC program offers medical students a voluntary opportunity to pursue, in depth, an area of personal interest during their four years at medical school. This is accomplished through a series of longitudinal elective experiences that supplement the required core curriculum. These para-curricular education tracks provide an opportunity for interested students to explore a potential career plan and uniquely enhance their medical education.

The knowledge, skills, and attitudes gained from participating in an AOC allow students to participate in the education of fellow classmates and develop a specialized expertise. Both faculty and students may benefit from the intensive mentorship experience that is an essential element.

AOC Components

Each AOC typically incorporates the following elements, at a minimum:

  1. Content and didactic material, including journal clubs, literature review, national meeting participation, syllabus, and reading lists
  2. Faculty mentoring
  3. Experiential component
  4. Preparation of a scholarly work (e.g., hypothesis-driven project) in the subject area of student interest, including formal written critique and presentation at a local or national forum
  5. Evaluation of student participants, faculty, and the AOC program itself

Experiential Component

Faculty, student, and community resources (including faculty members, clinic sites, community services, student groups, and society groups) commit to participation in the AOC. The AOCs are designed to be a longitudinal educational process. Each AOC determines the specific requirements of participating students during the four years of their medical education, including the specific time commitment expected.

Many different experiences may comprise the experiential component of an AOC.

Current AOCs have utilized a combination of diverse experiences to meet their educational goals. Participation in the MS-1 year might begin with a meeting held by the AOC to introduce interested students to the program, faculty, community partners, and students currently involved in the program. First-year students are expected to identify their mentor or mentors and develop their project. The student creates a journal or portfolio to record all related experiences, including attendance at related activities, reflection upon clinical experiences, and descriptions of the accomplishment of specific objectives. Many students choose to participate in related extracurricular activities and organizations. Participation in didactic sessions begins during the MS-1 year, including lectures, department conferences, journal club meetings, and presentations. A reading list is provided to students. A summer project may be required.

Students in the MS-2, MS-3 and MS-4 years would continue these activities. A senior elective experience is expected. The final project includes a portfolio of achievement.

AOC students may conduct project work on their AOC topic and have it count toward fulfilling the requirements of both the AOC and their required scholarly project. The scholarly project and the AOC programs have many elements in common, including the development of a close mentoring relationship and in-depth pursuit of a biomedical topic.


The process of evaluation of the involved students, faculty, and the AOC program itself is an essential element of the AOC. The required components of student evaluation include regular feedback from mentors and clinical faculty, semiannual mentor reports, documentation of attendance, and written evaluation of the final project. Other items that may be considered as part of the student evaluation include papers, article reviews, and the student’s journal or portfolio. The faculty and program evaluations include the standard School of Medicine formal evaluation process.

Students and mentors typically meet at least every other month to discuss progress and allow for feedback. Students meet biannually with the AOC directors for evaluation purposes. The entire group of participating AOC students, faculty, and community partners also may meet annually with a representative of the curriculum committee for evaluation and to foster cooperation and coordination in the development of programming.

Student Recruitment to AOCs

Each fall, there is an introductory overview of the AOC program, coordinated by the Office of Student Affairs together with the AOC directors. Each AOC determines how many students adequately can be accommodated in its programming. Participation by interested students who are not enrolled in the AOC toward a certificate is welcomed and encouraged. There is good interaction and cooperation among the AOCs, including crossover credit for journal clubs, coordination of service sites, and publication of activities.


Student recognition for participation in the AOC includes a letter of evaluation submitted by the AOC to the dean of students (by August of the student’s senior year) for inclusion in the Dean’s Letter. The School of Medicine awards a certificate to students who successfully complete an area of concentration program. Students who complete only a portion of the requirements of an AOC receive recognition for those elements completed, through the mentor’s letter to the dean of students but without the final certificate.