HMS 4th Year Elective

Understanding Lupus - A Multidisciplinary Approach to Systemic Disease

Course Directors: Schur, Peter Henry; Vleugels, Ruth Ann
Prerequisites: HMS Principal Clinical Experience (Core Clinical Clerkships) or equivalent
Offered: Full time every month.
Open to Exclerks: Yes (may be restricted for international students)

Course Description

Systemic lupus is an ideal disease process to afford medical students the opportunities to gain an appreciation for systemic disease and to learn within a multidisciplinary healthcare team. In this one-month course, medical students will engage in a wide breadth of activities, including five half-days of ambulatory patient care per week in rheumatology, dermatology, and multidisciplinary clinics, predominantly at Brigham and Women’s Hospital with some additional time at Children’s Hospital. Three half-days per week will be available to learn about lupus in the inpatient setting. Finally, two half-days per week will be reserved for scholarly pursuits. This dedicated time to scholarly activity is flexible in that it can be devoted to learning from a certain faculty member, acquiring additional clinical experiences in a related field, learning how clinical trials are conducted in the healthcare setting, working on a short-term clinical or translational research project or case write-up, or initiating work on a longer-term scholarly project with the assistance of faculty mentors. In this way, students’ experiences in this course should reflect their own unique and individual interests.

Origins of this Course

This course evolved from feedback obtained from student focus groups held at Harvard Medical School.Examples of student input from the focus groups included the following comments:

  • “Individual clinical encounters give a mere ‘snapshot’ of the patient’s disease; current electives fail to provide medical students with a true understanding of how a disease impacts a patient on multiple levels”
  • “Existing clinical electives fail to integrate medical students into a multidisciplinary setting; decisions made at a patient visit revolve around that subspecialty’s plans alone”
  • “The science behind various laboratory tests is largely missing from the clinical curriculum”
  • “Outpatient electives are often narrow in their focus in terms of thinking about one or two organ systems at a time”
  • “We typically lack the ability to develop a relationship over time with any particular patient”
  • “Most electives fail to really give you an impression on how a patient’s quality of life is affected by an overall disease”

What Are Students Saying About the Course?

Thus far, course feedback has been positive from students. We’ve already begun improving the course based on student feedback.Examples of student feedback include:

  • “The first course I have participated in that allowed me to think about all aspects of a patient’s disease, including every organ system and the psychosocial burden of having a disease like lupus.”
  • “An amazing exposure to comprehensive disease management with outstanding clinical and laboratory experiences.”
  • “This clerkship was great!!”
  • “This elective truly allowed me to envision a career in medical dermatology, including not only understanding the systemic medications utilized, but also appreciating the close relationships fostered with patients.”
  • “Terrific to work with faculty in several departments and two institutions within the same clerkship—more rotations should be set up in this manner”

Student Evaluation

Student are graded according to the HMS elective course grading scale: High Honors, Honors, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory.

Where to get more information

See the full listing in the HMS Course Catalog:

Contact the Harvard Medical School registrar to check eligibility requirements or for information on enrolling in the course:
Harvard Medical School
Office of the Registrar
Gordon Hall, Room 213
25 Shattuck Street
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: (617) 432-1515
Fax: (617) 432-0275
Office Hours: Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm


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