First Year

Our first-year students build their conceptual foundations in normal human biology, and simultaneously they begin to acquire knowledge and skills relevant to clinical practice. This takes place in a course named the Practice of Medicine where they begin to learn to take medical histories and to acquire basic skills of the physical examination. Thus, patient contact begins in the first month of medical school and continues throughout the first year.

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First-Year Courses

WU Medical Plunge (WUMP)

Through didactic lectures, tours, and public health service projects, WUMP introduces new medical students to the public health, diversity and healthcare disparity issues facing the greater St. Louis community and beyond.  Read the recent NPR article featuring WUMP: Seek first to understand: Lessons on poverty teach medical students to be better doctors.

Diversity Retreat

The half-day, off-campus Diversity Retreat utilizes experiential exercises and small group discussions to give first year medical students an opportunity to learn about different populations they will serve and to explore ways to communicate in cross-cultural situations.


This course is designed primarily for medical students and will cover fundamental aspects of biochemistry and cell biology. The course begins with a treatment of protein structure and the function of proteins in the cytoskeleton and cell motility. The principles of enzyme kinetics and regulation are then discussed, and basic pathways for the synthesis and metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids are introduced. This leads into a discussion of membrane structure and the function of cellular organelles in biological processes including energy production, protein degradation and protein trafficking.


The Human Body: Anatomy, Embryology, Imaging

The course is based largely on the dissection of the human body. Lectures on functional and topographic anatomy emphasize the principles of organization of the various systems of the body. Lectures on developmental anatomy stress organogenesis as an adjunct to understanding the normal and abnormal anatomy. An extensive museum of labeled dissected specimens is housed in the dissection room for ready reference by students who encounter abnormalities or variations in their dissections. Frequent use of CT, MRI and X-ray images aid in the synthesis of knowledge gained through dissection. Small-group discussions emphasize radiological anatomy and clinical correlations. This course is restricted to first-year medical students, but limited space is sometimes available for non-medical students enrolled in the PhD program with the instructor’s permission.

Read a St. Louis Public Radio story about the memorial service medical students hold each year for individuals who donate their bodies to the School of Medicine for the study of anatomy in this course.


This course consists of lectures, laboratory exercises and small-group discussions. It covers all aspects of the immune response — general properties of the immune system, effector molecules, cells and their function, cellular interactions and immunological diseases. The Immunology course requires a strong background in biochemistry, genetics and cell biology. Some of the basic concepts from these fields should be reviewed during the course. There are two laboratory sessions. These will cover the areas of blood typing/blood banking and allergy. In these laboratories, students will type blood and be tested for allergies. POPS (Patient Oriented Problem-Solving System in Immunology) will also be used during each laboratory session and contain a clinical problem that is analyzed and solved by small groups of three to four students. There are five hours of small-group clinical discussion sessions. In these sessions, students meet with physicians to discuss the role of immunology and a particular human disease. The Immune System (latest edition) by Peter Parham is used. For the small-group clinical sessions, the latest edition of the textbook Case Studies in Immunology: A Clinical Companion by Rosen and Geha will be used. There will be an online self assessment (multiple choice and true/false), a take-home exam (essay questions) and a formal final exam (multiple choice and short answer) on the topics described in the lectures and in the laboratory sessions. This course is restricted to medical students only.

Medical Genetics

Medical genetics is both a science and a clinical area or specialty of medicine, and the boundary between research and clinical application is increasingly blurred. The pace in which genomic and epigenomic tools are being developed is unprecedented. And these tools result in continual conceptual advancements, which inevitably affect how we approach the study of disease risk, diagnosis and management in all areas of medicine, not just medical genetics. We are moving into a time when the interpretable data from the examination of individual genomes will be incorporated to all other clinical data to assess individual risks and guide clinical management and decision-making. This course is intended as the first step towards life-long training in medical genetics and genomics.

The course begins with a number of sessions devoted to basic principles of genetics. Drawing on this foundation we move on to discuss genomic and epigenomic tools, and learn from leaders in their fields about the big questions in genetics and genomics (i.e. microbiome research, cancer genomics, current clinical uses of exome sequencing, etc.) and how the tools are being used to answer these questions. Students are exposed to the use of genetic and genomic databases and information resources; which will allow them to keep up with new information and critically appraise validity and clinical utility. We begin to discuss the implication of this shift to the “genomic era”, particularly regarding ethical aspects, regulatory aspects, equal access, healthcare costs and patient education. Clinical geneticists actively participate in the course and use a series of genetic disorders to help students apply their knowledge; focusing mainly on genetic etiology, pattern of inheritance, inheritance risk and molecular diagnostic testing. Frequent patient interviews further enhance the exposure to clinical genetics. Overall the course aims to enhance genetic and genomic literacy, which is an essential first step in preparing students to participate in the multidisciplinary teams that effectively make cutting edge genetic and genomic research results accessible to patients.


The challenge of this course is to emphasize the importance of understanding molecular and cellular paradigms of how pathogenic microbes interact with their hosts and cause disease. Selected pathogenic microbes, including bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, will be utilized as models to explain general principles of host-pathogen interactions and their consequences. Mechanisms by which microbes evade host defenses to cause acute and chronic infections will be highlighted. Problems facing the medical community in the 21st century such as rising antibiotic resistance and tropical diseases will be addressed. The main objective of this course is to teach students how to think about microbial pathogenesis in a way that will provide them a conceptual framework that relates mechanisms of pathogenesis to symptomatology and pathophysiology.

Neural Sciences

Neural Sciences is an intensive seven-week course that covers the structure, function and development of the nervous system as seen from molecular, cellular and systems-oriented perspectives. The emphasis is on the organization and function of the nervous system in health, but there is frequent reference to the clinical relevance of material presented. The course includes regular lectures, conference sessions and laboratories, plus a number of clinically oriented presentations. Computer-aided instructional programs, accessible from a variety of locations, provide auxiliary modes of self-paced learning and review. The midterm and final emphasize the core body of important facts and principles presented in lectures and laboratories.


This course integrates and extends the basic principles of cell biology and physiology to the functions of the major organ systems of the body; i.e., muscle, cardiovascular, renal, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and endocrine. Limited space is available for non-medical students with instructor’s permission. This course is cross-listed in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology.

The Practice of Medicine

This course employs a variety of teaching techniques, instructors and venues. Some, such as lectures, will be familiar. Others, such as one-on-one interviews in the hospital, will be new. Some course material is easily formatted into solid blocks, such as the teaching of statistical methods. Other content streams throughout the course, such as interviewing techniques and history interpretation. Particular areas may be stimulating and rewarding, and other areas may seem overemphasized. As with patients, each of you comes with a unique past and active history, previously formed interests and individual goals. Your prior contacts and personal experiences in science or medicine also influence you. It is impossible to account for all of these unique features, so we designed the course to accommodate a variety of learning interests and styles. Some will resonate with you; others may not. We hope to provide an opportunity for you to hone the skills that you already possess and acquire new skills necessary and important to the practice of medicine.

Principles of Pharmacology

The purpose of this course is to provide basic information on the underlying principles that apply to pharmacology. Topics addressed include: mechanisms of receptor-mediated drug action, pharmacokinetics, drug metabolism, toxicology, developmental pharmacology and the autonomic nervous system.


Selective provide first-year medical students the opportunity to explore in-depth subjects of interest beyond the core curriculum. Selectives enrich the curriculum and offer a tremendous variety of small group learning experineces with faculty mentors.

All first-year students are required to take and successfully complete at least four Selective courses with a maximum number of six.

  • One from basic science
  • One from humanities
  • Two additional from a clinical or basic science category

First-year selectives are very popular, with most students taking more than the required. Popular choices include

  • Art & Medicine
  • Health and Human Rights
  • International Health
  • Introduction to Emergency Medicine
  • Introduction to Newborn Medicine
  • Major Religious Traditions
  • Medical Spanish
  • Public Health
  • Terminal Illness and Death
  • Underserved Areas: Urban, Rural, Abroad

All First-Year Selectives

  • A.R.T. Advanced Interdisciplinary Bioethics
  • Alzheimer’s Disease in the Clinic and the Lab
  • Analysis of Clinical Data
  • Art and Medicine
  • Cardiovascular Control Mechanism
  • Clinical Correlations in Neurosciences
  • Contemporary Molecular Immunology
  • Developmental Biology and Disease
  • Dissecting to Think: The History of Anatomy
  • Doctors on Film
  • Frontiers in Leukemia
  • Hands-on Autopsy
  • The Healer’s Art
  • Health and Human Rights
  • International Health
  • Introduction to Clinical Neurosurgery
  • Introduction to Emergency Medicine-I
  • Introduction to Emergency Medicine-II
  • Introduction to Newborn Medicine
  • Major Religious Traditions
  • Medical Spanish
  • Medicine of Laughter
  • Music and Medicine
  • Patient, Physician and Drama
  • Philosophy of Medicine
  • Physician as Health Protector
  • Public Health
  • Saturday Neighborhood Health Clinic (SNHC)
  • Sun Protection Outreach Teaching by Medical Students (SPOTS)
  • Students Teaching AIDS to Students (STATS)
  • Terminal Illness and Death
  • Underserved Areas: Urban, Rural, Abroad