UCSF’s Ilios System Supports the School of Medicine’s New “Bridges” Curriculum

Ilios, a cutting edge curriculum management system developed in-house at UCSF, is playing a mission-critical role in the School of Medicine’s new Bridges Curriculum, which launched in August of this year.

Bridges is the School of Medicine’s first new curriculum in 15 years, and will train doctors in the skills they need to navigate and engineer the complex health care delivery and bioscience systems of the 21st Century. The program—developed over four years by 300+ faculty, staff, and students—is intended to revamp medical education to reflect society’s current needs, and to instill habits that will sustain doctors through the scientific, technological and social changes likely to occur throughout their medical careers.

To support the pioneering new program – which includes rigorous academic coursework, online learning tools, personalized mentoring, scholarly research, “inquiry studies”, and a Clinical Microsystems Clerkship – the School of Medicine employs Ilios, a web-based software platform that collects, manages, analyzes, and delivers curricular information to faculty, students, and administrators.

Ilios Serves Students, Faculty and Administrators Alike

Ilios provides a comprehensive view of the curriculum by tracking events, learning content and activities over time. For students, it serves as a virtual dashboard for their medical education, providing an individually tailored calendar and course schedule that includes direct links to detailed course information, learning materials, and other related educational systems and services, all through a unified user-friendly interface. Ilios is designed to sync with students’ smartphone calendars, ensuring seamless access to information and rapid, mobile-ready access to updates on any changes in their assignments or schedules.

Image of a student's calendar view in Ilios

A Bridges student’s dashboard view in Ilios


Contrast this to 20 years ago, when the typical medical student might at best receive a loose leaf printed schedule, with some basic information like course instructor and classroom location crammed into a crowded grid of text boxes. If they were lucky, a list of materials to review before or after lecture might be found on the back. The information was not only extremely limited in scope, but could also “go stale” quickly and without notice (imagine the quintessential student sprinting across campus to class, only to find upon her wheezing arrival a hastily scrawled note on the lecture hall door – “prof sick, class cancelled”).

And students are only one part of Ilios’s user base. For faculty, the system facilitates curricular development and review, providing educators with unprecedented data and analytical materials to identify gaps, redundancies, and opportunities for improvement within the overall Bridges curriculum. For administrators, Ilios vastly simplifies the process of verifying information regarding placement, timing, and location of students, faculty and resources in the Bridges curriculum’s highly individualized model, and then of collecting and analyzing data on students’ activities and expectations, and how those impact performance and outcomes. All this information must be regularly reported out to accrediting bodies like the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and is also used by numerous internal UCSF stakeholders to evaluate and improve all aspects of the educational experience.

The end result is a powerful tool that creates complete and accurate pictures of complex, integrated, multi-year curricula in formats that serve the varying needs of its diverse user base, making the work of students and faculty more accurate, effective, and accessible. Perhaps most importantly: students, faculty and administrators all report exceptionally high levels of satisfaction with the platform, and in surveys and testimonials have repeatedly emphasized its value and ease of use, particularly in its ability to facilitate detailed review of Bridges’ richly complex curriculum. Some typical feedback is reflected in this educator’s comment:

“…the new Ilios/iRocket is fantastic – what used to take hours (to check in iRocket or Ilios that hundreds of names/rooms/small groups were correct) now just takes about 10 minutes!”

Similarly, in a recent student survey of the current 1st year class for University of Florida Health Sciences Center, Ilios received a score of 3.5 out of 4 for general usability by members.

Creating a National Inventory for Medical Education

Originally developed 15 years ago by the technology team in the UCSF School of Medicine’s Office of Medical Education, Ilios was one of the first curriculum management systems of its kind, winning a Sautter award for innovation and excellence after its initial release. Led by Kevin Souza and Chandler Mayfield, this initial deployment of Ilios helped to put the UCSF School of Medicine and Ilios at the forefront of the growing field of curriculum management and mapping technology. Since its inception it has retained its status as one of the best such systems available, bar none.

Since 2009, Sascha B Cohen has directed the project, shepherding the transition from the original system to the current 3rd generation cutting-edge open-source web platform. Supported by a joint School of Medicine / University Library team, Ilios is now in use by the UCSF Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Dentistry, the UCI school of Medicine, and more than two dozen other leading medical and pharmacy schools internationally.

A completely rewritten and reimagined major new version, Ilios 3.0, was released in December 2015, and is expected to remain in use for at least 5-7 years before the next comprehensive revision. This version boasts the latest web technologies, improved resilience and flexibility, and a platform based on interoperability and communication. It can interface seamlessly with other popular educational applications like E*Value, Moodle, and Canvas, and was designed to easily accommodate future improvements that will inevitably be identified as user needs and the technology environment continue to evolve.

Thanks to its broad adoption and longstanding track record of excellence, Ilios was invited to be a key member of the vendor group who helped to shape and continue to support the AAMC’s North American Curriculum Inventory of medical education. This inventory provides aggregate data on the teaching and training of medical professionals nationally to media, government, and other interested parties. The effort seeks to provide a warehouse of information that can help us understand where, how, and to what effect medical education is being delivered throughout the nation.

To successfully implement this vision, North American medical schools needed to adopt a uniform standard around how to collect and report their curricular data. Ilios, along with a handful of other platforms, worked closely with MedBiquitous—the national organization for medical education standards —for a number of years to achieve this goal.

Following the work of the Curriculum Inventory, and in recognition of Ilios’s leadership in the field and forward-thinking design, Ilios was recently selected as a model for a new technology standard in health education by Medbiquitous. Building on the successful 2013 launch of standards to support and promote the AAMC’s Curriculum Inventory, Medbiquitous has partnered with UCSF to develop a standard for more universal system-to-system communication of curricular information. This API (“application programming interface”) standard is primarily informed by the models provided in Ilios, and the implementations currently in use at UCSF. The new standard is poised to play a critical role in the future of medical education and the technologies that support it, by paving the way for more effective communication, collaboration, and synthesis of data within our teaching institutions, and beyond.