3-Year Medical School Programs Could Help Students and the Healthcare System

By Catherine Groux
Posted December 24, 2012 01:00 PM

At some medical schools, students can graduate in three years.
At some medical schools, students can graduate in three years.
Today, in order to become a doctor, students must spend four year earning a bachelor's degree, followed by four years completing medical school, and three to eight years finishing an internship and residency program. Given the long - and often expensive - route to the profession, many students give up their dreams of becoming doctors.

However, some institutions are striving to change that by making medical school a little shorter. New York University (NYU), for example, is allowing select students to graduate medical school in three years instead of four, The New York Times reports. School officials said they were able to cut one year out of their program by reducing redundancies in their science curriculum, encouraging students to take extra classes over the summer and helping students get into clinical training programs more quickly.

"We’re confident that our three-year students are going to get the same depth and core knowledge, that we’re not going to turn it into a trade school," Dr. Steven Abramson, vice dean for education, faculty and academic affairs at NYU School of Medicine, told the Times.

While eliminating one year of medical school can help students by cutting the costs of earning a PhD and allowing them to enter the workforce sooner, some experts argue that three-year medical school programs will also positively impact the nation's healthcare system.

Many schools that offer three-year courses of study cater their programs to students who want to become primary care physicians. Currently, the nation is experiencing a shortage of these professionals, so allowing more primary care physicians to enter the workforce sooner could prove critical.

Dr. Robert Pallay, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Mercer University School of Medicine's Savannah campus, told American Medical News that traditionally, students spend their fourth year of medical school interviewing for residency programs and completing specialty rotations. Therefore, students who already know they want to become primary care physicians do not necessary need this fourth year of schooling.

"There are many of us in medical education who wonder about the need for the fourth year of medical school," Pallay said. "The issue here is, 'What does society need?' What our society needs right now is a significant increase in the number of family physicians."

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