Development and evaluation of a pre-clerkship spiral curriculum: data from three medical school classes

Anthony J. Maltagliati, Joshua H. Paree, Kadian L. McIntosh, Kevin F. Moynahan, Todd W. Vanderah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Pre-clerkship curricula of most Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)-accredited medical schools are divided into blocks by organ system, leaving a significant amount of information susceptible to loss due to prolonged nonuse. We describe the implementation of a formal Spiral Curriculum that periodically revisits material from previous blocks. Learners were surveyed on receptivity to the curriculum across three graduating classes at a single medical school. Medical school graduate classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 were surveyed at the end of their pre-clerkship years (2018–2020). The class of 2022 actually received the Spiraled Curriculum intervention, for which the authors created 500 board exam style multiple-choice questions, periodically administered via mandatory in-class sessions ranging from 10 to 20 questions reviewing content from previous blocks with designated expert faculty. Response rates were 36% (n = 46), 45% (n = 52), and 32% (n = 40) for classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022, respectively. On a Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = neutral, 10 = strongly agree), the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 provided statistically significant differences in their belief that a Spiraled Curriculum would/did help them retain information as 8.2 (SD 1.7), 8.2 (SD 2.2), and 5.0 (SD 3.0) (n < 0.05). All classes endorsed neutral confidence in the existing pre-clerkship curriculum in themselves to prepare for United Stated Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, and in their retention of previous block material with no statistically significant differences between classes. USMLE Step 1 scores did not differ significantly between classes (n = 0.21). Those who did not receive the Spiral Curriculum were highly receptive to it in theory, while those who actually received the intervention gave a neutral rating. Per survey comments, implementation of a Spiraling Curriculum would ideally be administered as either team-based or self-directed activities, and a Spiraling Curriculum may be difficult to implement in accelerated (18 month) pre-clerkship formats. Practice points Question: What is the receptivity of medical students to a formal Spiral curriculum that uses time-spaced repetition sessions of board exam style questions to revisit previous block content of their pre-clerkship years? Findings: In this single-center, quasi-experimental study, the two control group medical school classes had very positive theoretical reception to a Spiral curriculum proposal (rated 8 out of 10) while the class who actually received the Spiral curriculum provided a statistically significant lower neutral rating (rated 5 out of 10), citing preference for a team-based or self-directed format. Meaning: Medical students are strongly in favor of structured time-spaced repetition with board exam style questions to revisit previous material but prefer a format that does not interfere with time to personalize their medical school experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2167258
JournalMedical Education Online
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • Medical education
  • medical curriculum
  • pre-clerkship
  • spiral curriculum
  • time-spaced repetition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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