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Medical School Might Get Shorter

A group of medical-school executives recommends course work based on competency, not length of time, to solve U.S. doctor shortage.


Katie Prather is a medical student at Georgetown University.(Chet Susslin)

Modifications to medical-school curriculum could allow students to graduate in five--rather than seven--years.

A group of medical-school executives penned an article in the November issue of Health Affairs, a health policy journal, recommending innovations in osteopathic education to address the U.S. doctor shortage.


"Demonstration of key competency rather than the passage of a specific amount of time" would drive education, said Stephen Shannon, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and a coauthor of the recommendations.

With the Affordable Care Act providing millions of Americans with a pathway to health insurance, industry executives are worried that health providers could not handle the spike in consumers seeking care. Some 32 million consumers are expected to enter the health care system in 2014, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

By 2025, the AAMC estimates that the United States will face a shortage of 130,000 physicians. Roughly half of the demand will be concentrated in the primary-care field. Today, one in five osteopathic--internal medicine--graduates plan to enter the primary-care field, the Journal of the American Medical Association finds.


"There are a number of schools that are already implementing certain curriculum modifications," Shannon said. "But pilot programs could be up and running within a year or two."

Among the curriculum changes proposed by Shannon and his colleagues is the introduction of clinical experiences in the first year of study and a focus on team-based and patient-centered care to drive successful care outcomes. Students who show a mastery of course material can move forward in their education, rather than be bound by a specific time frame of study. The goal is to reduce the cost of medical school and make primary care more attractive to medical students, said Marc Hahn, president and CEO of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.

"Student debt is still an issue," Hahn said, "and if we could develop a competency based system--where students advance based on their academic and clinical performance--we believe we can reduce student debt and make it easier for the student to pursue ... primary care."

One of the biggest hurdles the pilot programs will have to overcome is accreditation. Shannon said the recommendations were presented to college accrediting groups, and there was "a significant amount of interest and dialogue" about reevaluating doctor-training programs.


"Certainly there's no desire to push anything that will produce less-qualified physicians," Shannon said. "But if the same requirements are there on both the undergraduate and graduate curriculum, there's the potential to condense."

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