Fast Track to a Medical Degree

Oct 1, 2013, 9:16 AM

With a primary care provider shortage looming, medical schools are trying a new approach to get physicians into the workforce quickly: condensing medical education from four years to three.

Mercer University (Georgia), Texas Tech University, and New York University offer three-year primary care programs, and will soon be joined by programs in Tennessee, Indiana, University of Wisconsin, East Carolina, and Kentucky, MedPage Today and Fierce Healthcare report.

Most of the schools are shortening or eliminating fourth-year clinical rotations to consolidate their programs, leaving the first three years—which often focus on medical science—untouched.

"We chose to do it on the clinical end rather than [the] basic science end because, as long as Step 1 is [and] as important as it is, our students need to be fully prepared for it,” Betsy Jones, EdD, vice chair of research in Texas Tech's Department of Family Medicine, told MedPage Today. “We didn't make any changes to the curriculum that would threaten our students' ability to do well on [the United States Medical Licensing Examination]. The changes are really at the fourth year level."

A three-year program also saves medical students tuition money, and allows them to earn money in the workforce sooner than in a conventional four-year program, according to Fierce Healthcare.

Educators admit the three-year programs don’t work for every student, and some have expressed concerns about the new trend.

"While we could shorten medical school and reduce debt and time to residency, there are other counter arguments,” J. William Eley, MD, MPH, executive associate dean of medical education and student affairs at Emory University School of Medicine, told MedPage Today in an email. “Medicine is more complicated than it has ever been and the populations that we treat as U.S. physicians require increased knowledge and experience as compared to years past … the gravity of decisions now being made by physicians requires more training, knowledge, skills and wisdom than ever … Can we eliminate a full year of learning, both didactic and experiential, in a time of greater knowledge and greater complexity of intervention?"

Read the MedPage Today story.
Read the Fierce Healthcare story.

What do you think? Are three-year medical degrees a good idea? Do they benefit students? Will they affect the quality of patient care? Register below to leave a comment.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.