The Three Medical School: Is a shorter enough to produce the modern doctor?

by Sathvik Shastry

For many, the idea of attending medical school is a dream, a goal, a means to an end. The shiny bold “M.D.” after your name or on your lab coat is more than just 4 characters; it’s a sign of respect, years of hard work and a commitment to devote your life to the health sciences. And when I say years of hard work, I mean it.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published data from the last thirty years, illustrating how the training period after medical school has increased to a huge degree, while time spent in school has not shortened. In fact, in the last thirty years the percentage of physicians younger than 35 has decreased from 28% to 15%. The demand for physicians has not decreased at all, with projections over the next decade estimating that the United States will need 45,000 more primary care physicians and 46,000 more surgeons and medical specialists.

So, clearly something needs to be done to help fill the glaring hole in physician shortage. One of the biggest ways to fix this problem is reducing the duration of medical training, from 4 years to 3. Experts say that this solution would not only compromise the quality of care provided or competency, while at the same time producing more doctors to help close the primary care physician gap.

It seems like a good idea to shorten medical school. Reducing student debt, allowing students to enter and practice at a younger age, and churning more doctors to help save the world – all benefits of having a three year schooling versus four. But what about the fourth year that students miss out on? Is it really that important and vital to a holistic education? After speaking with Dr. Kenneth Geller, Director of the USC Pre Health Advisement, my perspective on shortening school changed. His opinion on shortening the schooling to three years was simply cutting down on schooling for medical school will do nothing but prevent the student from valuable patient interaction and from learning skills that will help him or her become the best doctor they can be.

The reality is, what Dr. Geller spoke is the absolute truth. The training of the next generation of doctors is a task that has to be done properly, cutting no corners. For a profession where knowledge is constantly changing and growing, it’s important that students do not rush into change. And that’s why medical school should stay at its current length. It’s a long and arduous journey, but those who embark upon it and end up serving the community as role models and leaders truly love what they do and understand what it means to be a physician.

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