Life Experiences Curriculum
Because traumatic experiences are common and can have lasting impacts on health and well-being, trauma-informed medical education can greatly benefit both physicians and their patients. To provide this training, Columbia-Bassett (CB) has implemented a unique longitudinal curriculum called the Life Experiences Curriculum (LEC). The LEC is named to reflect our interest in understanding how life experiences, both positive and negative, may impact health and the potential to flourish across the life span.
We bring humility to the ongoing development of the LEC, because much is still unknown about the key components and ideal implementation of trauma-informed medical education. There is no accepted definition of a trauma-informed physician, nor a blueprint for how to become one. We believe that a trauma-informed physician is one who embodies more than knowledge about trauma, its related health effects, and the principles of trauma-informed care. A trauma-informed physician is one who also possesses a deep sense of self-and other-awareness, has compassion for how life experiences may shape a person, and can create a feeling of safety in themselves, their staff, their patients, and their patients’ families. The LEC aims to cultivate these capacities in students throughout medical school.
In the LEC, we pay great attention to the content learned and we are also very committed to the process behind how the content is learned. We intentionally develop a learning climate in the LEC that is safe, caring, and compassionate by using a longitudinal, relational process that reflects trauma-informed principles. This process parallels the care that we hope students will ultimately bring to members of their healthcare community, both colleagues and patients alike. To this end, LEC is led by three faculty who work with students over four years in a mentoring and supportive role. Importantly, they do not take part in any student evaluation.
The LEC faculty lead didactic seminars and work with students in group and individual reflection sessions titrated across the first 30 months of medical school. The seminars include brief preparatory materials (e.g. articles, videos) and are highly interactive and engaging sessions. Reflection sessions provide students with an opportunity to process their experiences in the learning and clinical environments and to apply principles of trauma-informed care. These sessions aim to buffer students against the cumulative stresses of medical school, build students’ capacities for self-and other-awareness and compassion, and identify ways to flourish despite the adversity of medical training. See below for more detail on the content and process of this curriculum during medical school.
- Columbia Bassett orientation – introduction to LEC and building the Columbia Bassett community.
- LEC Seminar – nine monthly group didactic sessions over a one-year period. These start in January of the first year and run until December prior to the major clinical year (MCY). Example seminar titles include the following:
- Trauma-informed care
- Nature and impacts of trauma
- Responses to trauma and healing
- Application to caring for others
- Application to caring for self
- Reflection sessions - monthly reflection sessions in student pairs with LEC faculty.
- Summer research (optional) with the Columbia Bassett Research Program.
Major Clinical Year
- MCY orientation – introduction to the LEC in MCY and nurturing the Columbia Bassett community.
- Reflection sessions
- Group reflection sessions monthly with all students and LEC faculty.
- Individual reflection sessions monthly with LEC faculty.
Differentiation and Integration
- Reflection sessions (optional)
- Senior Scholarly Project with the Columbia Bassett Research Program (optional)
- Ready for residency (optional)
In the spirit of continuous improvement, LEC grows and evolves each year. We learn from our experience implementing the curriculum, students’ feedback, emerging scholarship, and our collaboration with those in the Columbia Bassett Research program, who are doing active research in this area.
To further explore these topics, please feel free to engage with a sample of the LEC seminar materials:
- Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245-258. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8.
- Ridout, K. K., Ridout, S. J., Harris, B., & Felitti, V. (2023). Universal adverse childhood experience screening in primary care. NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery, 4(3), CAT. 22.0106. https://doi.org/10.1056/CAT.22.0106.
- Available at: https://catalyst.nejm.org/doi/abs/10.1056/CAT.22.0106
- The Rockefeller University (2017). Interview with Bruce McEwen.