The Colleges

The Colleges


What does it mean to be a physician and practice medicine?  The usual answers to this significant question include the following:  physicians promote individual and community health, prevent human suffering, relieve suffering caused by illness or disease when it does occur, prevent untimely death, pursue knowledge and truth as they relate to the human condition, and apply knowledge and truth—tempered with wisdom—in managing issues of health and disease in the care of patients, society, and the world community.

In reality, every physician answers the question of what it means to be a physician and practice medicine in their own individual way. One’s true answers consist of the efforts and the actions that make up the minutes, hours, days, and years of a physician’s professional life.  There is no final endpoint to the process of becoming and being a medical doctor.  As physicians, we are always in the process of becoming; we are always “practicing medicine”.  Medical school does not create physicians.  Medical school lays the foundation upon which the clinical and professional life of a physician is continually built and grows.

With these ideas foremost in our minds and hearts, the faculty and staff of the Colleges of the University of Washington School of Medicine recognize both the great privilege and solemn responsibility that has been entrusted to us in the training of medical students throughout medical school.


The Colleges have three primary goals:

  • To collaborate in creating and delivering an integrated curriculum of clinical skills and professionalism;
  • To teach in the Foundations of Clinical Medicine course in the Foundations Phase of the curriculum;
  • To provide a consistent faculty mentor to each student throughout their medical school career.


Each site in the WWAMI region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) has its own College or Colleges, depending on the number of students at the site (larger sites have two Colleges, to meet our goal of smaller learning communities). Students are randomly assigned upon matriculation to one faculty mentor within a College.  Each College mentor is assigned a small group students in each entering class, and works with them throughout their medical school career.


One of the main responsibilities of the Colleges is to oversee a four-year integrated curriculum of clinical skills and professionalism.  There are five areas of clinical skills with developmental benchmarks identified for each year:

  • Interview skills, including taking a patient history;
  • Diagnostic and physical exam skills;
  • Clinical reasoning and interpretation skills;
  • Communication skills (with patients and colleagues) including both written and oral case presentation skills
  • Professionalism and ethics;

Although they are described uniquely, there is considerable overlap between the five areas.  As students move through medical school training, they are provided with more specific, detailed benchmarks.  These benchmarks are regularly refined and deepened to enhance their usefulness in helping students identify appropriate learning goals for each academic quarter or clerkship.

Each student uses a web-based educational learning portfolio to document their work and progress in the skills development curriculum.  This enables students and their mentors to monitor progress in specific areas against defined benchmarks throughout the four years and provide appropriate guidance.  The portfolio includes students’ write-ups with their mentors’ comments, “reflections” on various elements of the curriculum, and copies of their feedback on their performance each quarter.  The College mentors also have access to their students’ academic files and receive copies of letters sent to their students regarding their academic progress and modifications in their academic plans. They do not participate in formal evaluation (this is done by the Foundations of Clinical Medicine course directors, as the role of the mentor is formative rather than evaluative).

The Colleges system is also a primary source of mentoring for students.  This includes quarterly face-to-face (or phone or video conference) meetings; regular check-in via phone or email to monitor student progress and completion of required components of the curriculum (maintained in student portfolios); and academic and career counseling (in partnership with our colleagues in Student Affairs and individual departments).



Spokane College faculty gathering in Seattle for professional development (and fun!)