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Does medical school take too long?

A Stanford School of Medicine alumnus makes a case for condensing medical school curriculum into fewer years to provide more doctors.

Akhilesh Pathipati, MD, believes that medical school simply takes too long.

It usually consists of two years of classroom-based learning and two years of patient-oriented clinical training. Both of these elements can be condensed, Pathipati, a former Stanford Medicine Unplugged author now in his first year of residency, argues in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.

Many concepts are repeated in the pre-clinical years, he writes, and time spent on the fourth-year clinical electives could be focused on the specialty area of interest. That could shrink the length of physician training from an average of 14 years past high school in the United States, closer to the 10 years needed in other developed countries.

He also calls for reevaluating the role of academic research in medical education. A study he conducted found that the most common reason med students take a year off to conduct research is to improve their chances of getting placed in the residency of their choice. That’s a bad incentive to conduct research, he says: It delays graduation from medical school and results in numerous low-quality publications.

Reducing the time spent in medical school wouldn't necessarily diminish the quality of education, he says:

In the past decade, several schools have shown the four-year model can be cut to three... Critics contend that three years is not enough time to learn medicine. Yet a review of eight medical schools with three-year programs suggests graduates have similar test scores and clinical performance to those who take more time.

One reason for getting medical students through the academic programs faster is that we are facing a shortage of physicians — up to a 100,000 shortfall by the year 2030, according to projections by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Condensing medical school curriculum could speed graduation and divert money into training programs, getting thousands of physicians in front of patients sooner. Ultimately, Pathipati writes, that would lead to better patient care.

Photo by Dr.Farouk

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