4.21 Technical Standards

Applicants to Harvard Medical School are selected on the basis of their academic, personal, and extracurricular dimensions. In addition, applicants must have the intellectual, physical and emotional capacities to meet the requirements of the School’s curriculum and of a successful medical career.

The mission of Harvard Medical School is to provide its graduates with broad general knowledge in all fields of medicine and the basic skills and competence requisite for the practice of medicine. Therefore, the faculty of HMS believes that a broad-based and patient-oriented curriculum is necessary for the development of such knowledge and skills and is best suited to the education of future generalists, specialists, physician investigators and leaders in medicine. In other words, HMS seeks to graduate students who will have the knowledge and skills to function in a broad variety of clinical situations and to render a wide spectrum of patient care. The following technical standard guidelines were suggested by the Special Advisory Panel on Technical Standards for Medical School Admissions convened by the AAMC, (Memorandum #79-4) in January, 1979.* These guidelines were formally adopted by the Harvard Medical School Committee on Admissions in 1989, and they have been reviewed and confirmed every year since. These guidelines specify the attributes that the HMS faculty considers essential for completing medical-school training and for enabling each graduate to enter residency and clinical practice. Because these standards describe the essential functions that students must demonstrate to meet the requirements of a general medical education, they are pre-requisites for entrance, continuation, promotion and graduation.


The following Technical Standards were reviewed and endorsed by the HMS MD Admissions Committee and the Educational Policy and Curriculum Committee. All candidates who are accepted to the MD program at Harvard Medical School will be expected to sign the Technical Standards Acknowledgement prior to beginning course work and to reaffirm upon reentry to Harvard Medical School after any leave of absence from Harvard University.

Introduction and Purpose


The HMS Program in Medical Education is committed to providing equal opportunities for all students and endeavors to select candidates who have the ability to become highly competent physicians and who are well prepared to enter residency training programs and otherwise satisfy HMS academic and performative requirements, including these Technical Standards. The Technical Standards are based upon, and adhere to, the standards set forth by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

HMS has responsibility for: the selection of students; the design, implementation, and evaluation of the curriculum; the evaluation of student progress; and the determination of who should be awarded a MD degree. In evaluating candidates under these Technical Standards, HMS will base its decisions on academic and non-academic factors, as appropriate, to ensure that the candidate can complete the essential academic and Technical Standards required for graduation.

The HMS program is undifferentiated, which means graduates are provided with broad general knowledge in all fields of medicine and the basic skills and competence requisite for the practice of medicine. This patient-oriented curriculum is necessary for the development of such knowledge and skills and is best suited to the education of future generalists, specialists, physician investigators and leaders in medicine. In other words, HMS seeks to graduate students who will have the knowledge and skills to function in a broad variety of clinical situations and to render a wide spectrum of patient care. The intention of an individual candidate to practice only a narrow part of clinical medicine, or to pursue a non-clinical career, does not alter the requirement that all HMS MD students are required to take and achieve competence in the full curriculum required by the program.

The term “candidate” refers to individuals who have been admitted to the MD program at Harvard Medical School as well as current students who are candidates for retention, promotion, or graduation.


Technical Standards for Medical School Admission, Continuation and Graduation


A candidate for the MD degree must have abilities and skills in five categories, including (A) Observation; (B) Communication; (C) Motor Functioning; (D) Intellectual-Conceptual Skills, Integrative, and Quantitative abilities; and (E) Behavioral Attributes, Social Skills and Professional Expectations. Candidates should be able to perform the requisite skills in a reasonably independent manner.

A. Observational Skills

Candidates must be able to obtain information and techniques from demonstrations and experiments in the foundational sciences. Candidates must be able to participate in experiments of science, including but not limited to such activities as dissection of cadavers; examination of specimens in anatomy, pathology and neuroanatomy laboratories; and microbiologic study of microorganisms and tissues in normal and pathologic states. Candidates must be able to acquire information quickly and accurately from patients and assess findings. They must be able to perform a complete physical examination independently, correctly observe and interpret diagnostic representation of patients’ physiological data, and accurately evaluate patients’ conditions and responses in order to integrate this information and develop and appropriate diagnostic and treatment plan.

B. Communication Skills

Candidates must be able to communicate effectively and efficiently with patients, their families, health care personnel, colleagues, faculty, staff, and all other individuals with whom they come in contact. Candidates must be able to obtain a medical history in a timely fashion, interpret non-verbal aspects of communication or the way a disease or illness may present, and establish therapeutic relationships with patients. Candidates must be able to record information accurately and clearly and communicate with other health care professional in a variety of patient settings.

C. Motor Functions

Candidates must, after a reasonable period of training, possess the capacity to independently perform physical examinations and diagnostic maneuvers, e.g., palpation, auscultation, percussion and other diagnostic maneuvers. A candidate must be able to respond to clinical situations in a timely manner and provide direct general and emergency treatment in a range of situations and conditions to patients. Examples include cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the administration of intravenous medication, the application of pressure to stop bleeding, the opening of obstructed airways, the suturing of simple wounds and the performance of simple obstetrical maneuvers, among others. These activities require some physical mobility, coordination of both gross and fine neuromuscular functions, and equilibrium. Candidates also must meet safety standards appropriate for settings and adhere to universals precautions procedures.

D. Intellectual-Conceptual Skills, Integrative and Quantitative Abilities

Candidates must be able to assimilate and engage with detailed and complex information presented through both the didactic curriculum and clinical coursework. Candidates are expected to possess the abilities to measure, calculate, reason, analyze, synthesis/interpret, and transmit information quickly and efficiently in both remote and in-person situations. In addition, candidates must be able to comprehend three-dimensional relationships and to understand the spatial relationships of structures and to adapt to different learning environments and modalities. Candidates must be able to learn, participate, collaborate and contribute as part of a team effectively. Candidates must be able to interpret connections and make accurate, fact-based conclusions based on available data and information. Candidates must be able to formulate a hypothesis, investigate the potential answers and outcomes and formulate appropriate and accurate conclusions.

E. Behavioral Attributes, Social Skills, and Professional Expectations

Candidates must exhibit sufficient maturity and emotional stability for full utilization of their intellectual abilities, which includes, but is not limited to, the exercise of good judgment and the prompt completion of all responsibilities associated to the diagnosis and care of patients. Candidates must exhibit integrity, honesty, professionalism, and compassion, and are expected to display a spirit of cooperation and teamwork. Candidates are expected to understand the legal and ethical aspects of the practice of medicine and function within these standards of the medical profession. Candidates must interact with patients and their families, health care professionals, colleagues, faculty and staff in a courteous, professional, and respectful manner. Candidates must accept responsibility for learning and exercising good judgement and are expected to contribute to collaborative, constructive learning environments; accept constructive feedback from others; and take personal responsibility for making appropriate positive changes. Candidates must possess the physical and emotional endurance to tolerate demanding workloads, to function in a competent and professional manner in high stress fast-paced situations and to adapt to changing environments, display flexibility and manage the uncertainties intrinsic in the care of patients and health care system.

Accommodation of Disabilities: HMS will provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities. Candidates still must be able to perform the Technical Standards outlined above. Given the clinical nature the MD program, time may be needed to create and implement individualized accommodations. HMS’s process to provide reasonable accommodations is described at https://meded.hms.harvard.edu/disability-services. Candidates interested in initiating the accommodation process should contact the HMS Office of Disability Services at 617-432-9198 or via email at disabilityservices@hms.harvard.edu to schedule an appointment.

HMS will not assume that an individual has a disability. Instead, individuals must self-identify to HMS’s Office of Disability Services and engage in the accommodation process. This typically will involve the individual providing documentation of their disability and how it presents, followed by an interactive process between the individual and HMS staff to determine an individualized accommodation plan that will not fundamentally alter HMS’s academic or professional standards. Accommodations are not applied retroactively; therefore, timely requests are essential and encouraged. If a student, with or without reasonable accommodation, cannot satisfy these Technical Standards or if the disability would interfere with patient or peer safety, or otherwise impede their ability to complete the undifferentiated HMS program and advance to graduation, residency training or licensure, then the student may be separated, discontinued, or dismissed from the program.

Updated 12/13/21