Looking at curricula at different medical schools around the country, we get some clues as to what medical education will look like in the near future. For students entering classes in 2016 and beyond, and who’ve grown up around technology and the new changes in healthcare, medical school will be nothing like it was even five years ago. Here are just some of the innovations and new changes being implemented by some of the leading schools in the nation:
• A focus on technology: because today’s applicants are much more tech savvy, and since medical advances are happening at breakneck speed, medical students need technology to keep up. New buildings and spaces are being created that simulate high tech operating rooms and emergency rooms so that students can practice in real life settings. It’s no longer enough to sit in a library and simply read textbooks and journals. Many schools are supplying students with iPads and implementing iPad based curriculums, which encourage active learning and enhance participation. The University of California-Irvine School of Medicine, for example, became the first medical school to go completely digital, and in 2010 began a comprehensive, iPad-based curriculum. By 2013, they announced that the first class using this new technology scored 23 percent higher on their national exams than previous classes. Expect to see much more of these types of innovations in the future.
• Combined primary care degree: since primary care is where healthcare will be focused in the coming years, more schools will be offering combined degrees so that primary care physicians can also practice in other areas of specialization. Brown University Medical School, for example, is beginning a dual degree in primary care and population health in order to prepare students for a career in which they can do both.
• Accelerated M.D. degrees: schools such as the University of California Davis School of Medicine, Texas Tech University School of Medicine, Louisiana State University School of Medicine, and New York University School of Medicine are offering an accelerated three-year medical degree. Two of the main reasons that medical schools are experimenting with a 3-year degree option is to cut the cost of a medical education and to attract more students to pursue careers in primary care. These fast-track programs are not for everyone, but with projections showing that physician shortages will become drastically worse over the next ten years, more schools are looking to accelerated programs as a way to recruit and graduate students who will commit to primary care.
• Problem-Based Learning: students entering medical school today are expected to have a totally different mindset when it comes to approaching their studies. The last ten years have seen more medical advances and breakthroughs than in the previous hundred years combined. The entire DNA molecule has now been sequenced, which means that we’ll be able to identify and conceivably prevent, treat, or cure almost every possible disease. The goal of problem-based learning in medicine is to help students enhance their problem-solving and learning skills. By working on real patient cases in small groups, medical students develop communication and collaboration skills, as well as becoming more flexible in how they apply their knowledge.
• Integrating Research Principles: medical schools are realizing that with medical advances occurring as such a rapid pace, future physicians need to know and be able to use research principles. To do that, many schools are integrating research principles into the curriculum and involving teams of expert faculty researchers to help students solve health problems based on real-life cases. For example, at the new Oakland University Beaumont School of Medicine, established in 2011, students get extra financial aid in their fourth year if they participate in a research project of significant merit.
• Skipping residency programs: some states such as Missouri are addressing the physician shortage by passing laws that would allow medical school graduates to start treating patients without having to spend an extra 3 to 6 years in a residency program. The Missouri law, for example, would issue a license to someone who has graduated from medical school within the past three years and passed the first two rounds of licensing exams within the last two years. These graduates would provide primary care services in medically underserved areas as long as they are supervised by another physician. Other states such as Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma are also enacting similar measures or considering the idea as a way to meet physician shortages.
With 144 medical schools in the United States, and nine more opening in 2016-2107, students have a wider range of options than ever. For over 100 years, medical schools have been training doctors in the same way. But that’s beginning to change, and the new trend in medical school is to revamp curricula and programs so that they reflect the changing face of healthcare and the changing dynamics of modern day students. Technology is the rage. Modern buildings and facilities that simulate real-life medical situations are becoming more common. Smaller class sizes emphasize team work and collaboration among students. And integrating the curricula with patient care early on is the wave of the future. At no time has medical school education been more exciting and challenging. For young students planning a career in medicine, the next ten years will be an incredible decade of both change and opportunity.
Reprinted from: The New Medical School Preparation & Admissions Guide, 2016: