Applying the Lean Startup Method to Structure Project-Based, Student-Driven Curricular Enhancements

Kerim B. Kaylan, Sarah M. Russel, Cody N. Justice, Michelle K. Sheena, Laura E. Hirshfield, Heather L. Heiman, Raymond H. Curry. “Applying the Lean Startup Method to Structure Project-Based, Student-Driven Curricular Enhancements.” Teaching and Learning in Medicine (published online ahead of print). June 2021.


Problem: Formal medical student engagement in curricular evaluation provides significant value through identification of opportunities for curricular change. Students provide diverse perspectives and have a unique vantage point, which allows them to see aspects of the curriculum that educators and administrators might not recognize. Current descriptions of student engagement are focused largely on collection, analysis, and presentation of summative feedback in the pre-clerkship curriculum. However, medical students could potentially contribute to curricular improvement in ways extending beyond post hoc curricular evaluation. Student teams focused on identification of specific needs and project-based implementation of solutions represent one means of doing so but require a structured, organizing method in order to succeed.

Intervention: We describe a novel, project-based, student-driven medical education initiative, the Special Projects Team, which is focused on identifying opportunities for forward-looking curricular enhancements beyond single courses or rotations. We adapted and implemented the lean startup method, a model for project management, in order to address the need for organization and accountability in the Special Projects Team. Members of the Special Projects Team were recruited from the first- and second-year medical school classes in the 2018–2020 academic years and provided with training on the lean startup method. Team members selected and pursued projects according to the principles of lean startup method, reporting their progress to the chair of the Special Projects Team and other team members at monthly meetings with pre-defined structure.

Context: The Special Projects Team is part of the local Student Curricular Board at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois College of Medicine. The Student Curricular Board is responsible for conducting curricular evaluation and improvement, operating under the local medical student council with financial support from the Office of Curricular Affairs. Direct supervision of the Special Projects Team is provided by a student chair, the executive board of the Student Curricular Board, and the curricular dean.

Impact: The projects initiated as part of the Special Projects Team covered a broad range of themes, including curricular evaluation, technology, and student experiences. Lean startup method contributed to sustained project success and frequent reassessment across the two years of our experience, with aggregate project success or continuation rate of 68.4% (13/19 projects). We further demonstrate how lean startup method increased productivity while providing structure and accountability for a student-led medical education team.

Lessons Learned: Lean startup method can be used to structure student-driven, project-based curricular enhancements. This approach is broadly applicable to other medical schools with implementation requiring only a motivated student team, faculty advisor, and basic knowledge of the lean startup method.

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I am a resident physician in the Department of Medicine and Physician Scientist Development Program at the University of Chicago. My doctoral research focused on tissue engineering approaches to study stem and progenitor cell fate in the developing liver. Learn more.



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