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Learning Objectives for Weaving Evolutionary Thinking into Medical Education

Abstract

Basic science is integral to medical education because it teaches future physicians the fundamental principles of biology they need to become lifelong learners and keep up with expanding medical knowledge. One of these fundamental principles is evolution, which has many practical applications in medicine. Consequently, there is increasing interest in integrating evolutionary biology into medical education. To realize this goal, educators should focus on practical aspects of how knowledge of evolution improves a physician’s ability to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. This perspective should be woven throughout the curriculum, so evolution comes to be seen as a broadly relevant concept rather than a distinct and peripheral discipline. In particular, we suggest that three general learning objectives be integrated broadly into medical education. First, medical students should be able to apply knowledge of human evolutionary history to explain how genetic variation within and among human populations affects risk, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. Second, students should understand how evolution has led to variation within and between pathogen populations (and tumors), affecting diagnosis and treatment. Third, students should understand how analytical tools from evolutionary genetics are used to determine patient ancestry, disease risk, and pathogen origins. We provide multiple specific topics, case studies, and learning activities within each of these three objectives. The evolutionary medicine learning objectives listed here meet multiple competencies and objectives outlined in the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)/Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) 2009 report on the Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians.

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