Bringing it Back to Basic Science

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 16, 2010) – A new lecture series is helping medical students apply basic science principals to clinical cases.

“The program is an effort to help fourth-year medical students become better clinicians and teachers,” said Irene Hong-McAtee, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, and a pediatric endocrinologist at Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

The Basic Science Pediatrics Lecture Series fosters a deeper understanding of clinical cases and encourages independent learning. The course is led by basic science and clinical pediatric faculty.

During the four-week rotation, students focus on four different cases. They examine the clinical presentation of a case and the basic mechanisms of the diseases diagnosed and the treatments prescribed. Students and faculty then discuss the case, brainstorming further questions raised by clinical and scientific presentations. Students use these questions to inform their research and then make presentations to the class.

The goal is for students to remember the basic science they learned in the first two years of medical school and apply it to pediatric cases.

The class was helpful for first-year pediatrics resident Dr. Priya Veeraraghavan because it reminded her of the importance of knowing the science behind the practice, she said. “By connecting it back to the basic sciences, you reconnect with how disease works, how the body handles something.”

Hong-McAtee said there are plans to expand the program to include a biology graduate student.

“That will bring it full circle,” she said. “The biology graduate student will know the basic science but not be as familiar with the clinical information. So now that student can teach us from the perspective of having done the lab techniques. Our goal is to have them teach each other and to teach us.”

Sam Turco, professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry, said bringing the biochemistry aspect into the program contributes to a better understanding of pediatrics.

“Biochemistry is one of the fundamental courses for medical students,” Turco said. “Unfortunately, in the first year of medical school, many students do not appreciate its value and how it explains many of the diseases and other medical situations they see in clinical years. In this particular course, integration in the fourth year of medical school of biochemistry and pediatrics undoubtedly would contribute to a much better understanding of childhood diseases, diagnoses and treatments.”

Turco hopes the experience is one that will help medical students throughout their careers.

“It’s not just biochemistry integrated with pediatrics, but having basic science integration with clinical disciplines is so valuable in their careers in being better physicians,” Turco said.

Hong-McAtee said the program has been a success and there are plans to repeat it every fall for at least three consecutive years. The program would then be re-assessed and made into a freestanding elective. Already, data analysis of the first year shows statistically significant improvement in the amount of knowledge gained between the pre-test and the post-test given in the last week of the lecture series.

“It has been a neat experience,” Hong-McAtee said.


Veeraraghavan agreed with Hong-McAtee’s perspective.


“What stood out to me the most during the lecture series was the involvement of the faculty," Veeraraghavan said. "How helpful they were really made it clear how important the basic sciences are to clinical practice. They helped us realize that things keep changing. Their experience and knowledge truly guided us in the right direction.”

In addition to Drs. Hong-McAtee and Turco, the other faculty who developed this course and currently teach are Drs. Hubert Ballard, Chris Nelson, Don Hayes, Luke Bradley, Rebecca Dutch, and Lu-Yuan Lee. 

Development of similar programs is under consideration for several other clinical specialties.