I recently read an article discussing “The Three-Year Medical School” as a solution to increasing debt for medical students, especially those going into family medicine. If you want, you can view that article here. Here is my take on it and why it is a horrible idea.
So basically some schools are starting to implement a fast-tracked version of medical school for those who know they want to go into family medicine. The idea is that by allowing these students to complete school faster, they will have one year less of debt, which is a good thing since doctors in family medicine tend to make less money than those who specialize and, thus, have a much harder time paying off their med school loans.
I think the idea is addressing an issue that definitely needs to be addressed. More and more doctors are not choosing primary care and instead are choosing to specialize. This is most likely due to several things. 1. Specialists make much more money than primary care physicians. 2. Specialists are often perceived as “more intelligent” than primary care physicians because they have trained longer and make more money. (Which is just not true.)
Anyway, the three-year med school is supposed to help with that. However, while it does decrease physician debt, I think it many ways it perpetuates the stereotype that primary care physicians aren’t as smart as specialists. By making them train for one year less, it sounds like you are saying that they don’t need to learn as much as specialists, which is the opposite of true.
For me, one reason I am so attracted to primary care, is the intellectual challenge that it involves. Primary care physicians need to know about anything and everything because they are generally the first ones to identify a problem. I think it is sad to think that a shorter version or a fast-tracked version of med school can prepare them as well to be good primary care physicians as a longer curriculum.
I know that med school seems like a long time and a lot of school, but believe me it isn’t. There is so much to learn to be a physician, and there is no room to make mistakes when you are dealing with human lives. I often feel like I wish I had one or two more years to learn it all. I have heard my professors say that they used to teach something but now there just isn’t room in the curriculum for it, and that makes me sad because sometimes the topics that are cut out are very important. Medical knowledge is increasing, not decreasing, so even though there have been times in the past where medical schools were shortened in cases of emergency, such as during WWII, I don’t think that it is ideal.
The fact is this is an issue that needs to be addressed. I can tell you from my own personal experience that med school debt is ridiculous. I owe so, so much money, and I worry every day about how I will pay it off. In the midst of health care reform, I can’t help but notice how little thought has been put into how to address the issue of physician shortages. Many physicians are afraid of working even more and getting paid even less. It is a scary time to become a doctor.
For what it’s worth, my own personal opinion is that the three-year med school is a bad idea. I wouldn’t want my own physician to have less training than the next. A better solution would be to look at government loans and interest rates. I know that I stress less about the actual amount of the loans I am borrowing and more about the interest rates. I wish I wouldn’t have to start accruing interest right off the bat. Why not wait until I am actually out of medical school? Or at least charge me a decent interest rate, instead of 6.4%!
It does cost a lot for a medical education. But, whatever the cost, I would gladly choose to pay it over the idea of short-changing my own education and my patients’ well-being.