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UICOMR students participate in AI curriculum

AI students

Artificial Intelligence isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, and it’s beginning to transform health care and medical practice.

Students at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford are getting exposed to the world of AI through a new curriculum as they complete their medical school journey.

“The real world already has AI in it and medical schools are slowly getting used to the fact that they have to prepare students for this new reality in their lives,” says Linda F. Chang, PharmD, MPH, BCPS, associate professor of clinical family medicine.

“In the first year, medical students learn about microbiology, pharmacology, performing a physical exam, and along with that, they learn how to evaluate the use of AI tools in medicine,” says Chang.

Staff and faculty from the College of Medicine campuses in Chicago, Peoria and Rockford came together in 2022 to identify what students needed to know.

“We want to incorporate AI into the general medicine curriculum and enable all students to be able to critically evaluate AI tools and determine if they should follow recommendations provided by the AI applications,” says Radhika Sreedhar, MD, MS, FACP, associate professor of clinical medicine and director of curricular integration at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Chicago (UI COM).

The curriculum, which students start taking right when they get on campus, covers the gamut of AI, Sreedhar says. It was implemented this year and spans all four years of a medical student’s education.

“We want every student to get some instruction about AI before they graduate from UICOM,” Sreedhar says. “This is unique because not many schools have integrated the teaching of AI into the regular curriculum for all students and the ones that that teach about AI are generally technology-based schools or have a strong engineering focus.”

The AI curriculum spans all three campuses and is made up of six parts. Students learn the basics of AI; social and ethical implications of AI; AI-enhanced clinical encounters; evidence-based evaluation of AI-based applications; workflow analysis for AI-based applications; and practice-based learning and improvement regarding AI-based applications.

“Information specialists and AI specialists from the AI.Health4All Center and at the College of Medicine worked with our team to design this curriculum,” Sreedhar says. “Once students go into their clinical years, we really want them to consolidate all this knowledge so they can apply it in a real-world setting.”

In the clinical years, students will learn about robotics and AI, potential issues with the use of AI in radiology, an AI-based sepsis early warning tool integrated in the electronic health record system and the role of AI in interpreting cardiotocography and fetal rate, among other things. Students also will participate in hands-on sessions to explore various data types.

“If you are a patient with diabetes, and have a glucometer and insulin pump embedded, an AI-based application is now available that can decide how much insulin is needed based on the glucometer readings,” Sreedhar says. “Can students explain to patients how the AI application in the device works? If you don’t know how AI works, explaining how the device determines the amount of insulin to be administered and troubleshooting problems that arise becomes difficult. These are the kinds of things we want our students to learn.”

Medical students seem open to embracing AI, because they say it’s not going anywhere, so they want to learn all they can.

“I think it’s a when and not an if scenario of when we start to use it in clinical practice,” says Blaine Calloni, a third-year medical student. “There’s already been studies where it’s read X-ray reports, imaging reports, pathology reports and sometimes, it outperforms their physicians. It’s another thing we can add to our arsenal that we can use to better serve our patients.”

Students also are showing interest in AI tools and how they can help physicians in the medical field

Claire Marie Sagartz, also a third-year medical student, says being a doctor is a challenging career, so getting students exposed to AI now can only help them moving forward.

“I’m passionate about the physician’s wellness and how to make doctors’ lives easier,” she says. “AI can make a difference in terms of people getting health care because doctors will be able to use their time to the maximum efficiency. I’m hoping this class helps, because I want doctors to like their job as much as possible.”

AI offers several great benefits, but also some challenges, which is something the curriculum tries to address.

“As people who use Chat GPT know, it’s not afraid to lie, because it doesn’t know it’s lying,” Calloni says. “It’s fed a data set, and it’s going to spit out what it knows. It can spit out biased data and biased clinical decisions without verification from the physician.”

Sreedhar echoes those sentiments.

“How do we know whether the answers provided by Chat GPT are correct and how does Chat GPT provide us these answers? These are some of the questions that we address in the first six weeks of medical school. Once students understand how these large language models work, they will be able to appreciate the best ways to use these tools and identify potential pitfalls with their use.”

In one part of the curriculum, students will review a study about an AI-based application that can predict the occurrence of acute kidney injury, and they explore the problems in the study.

“Can we trust the prediction of occurrence of acute kidney injury produced by this AI application and apply it to our patients? At the end of the curriculum, that is what we want our students to know,” Sreedhar says.

Sreedhar hopes students use the knowledge they’ll receive from the class to help them learn how to navigate AI in the real world.

“We want our students to be able to participate in discussions regarding the use of AI in medicine, evaluate AI products and become leaders in using and developing AI projects,” she says. “This revolution is here, and it’s here to stay, and we want our students to be ahead of the curve and we want to give them a leg up.”