On Campus

A doctor in seven years? Sign me up

New program combines undergraduate and medical school

medical school

Photo courtesy of Tulane Public Relations on Flickr

Imagine if there were a way to train doctors more efficiently, effectively, and at a lower cost, increasing the number of primary care providers while decreasing the amount of debt that students face. In other words, imagine a system that benefits patients, doctors, and the health care system.

Officials at the University of Texas (UT) believe they can do just that.

A new program pitched for 2013 will reduce the number of years that are required for students to earn a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree by spreading medical education across seven years, instead of putting most of it in a four year program that follows a BSc. The class would start with 60 freshman who are guaranteed a spot in med school if they do well in the first three years.

There may be fewer electives than a normal science degree, but there will still be some flexibility built into the program, including an entire year to “explore an area of interest” such as public health or medical research.

“Medical education, in general, takes too long, costs too much, it’s redundant, and it also doesn’t necessarily prepare people for practice in the 21st century,” Dr. Kenneth Shine, the UT’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs explained to The Austin American-Statesman. Other UT campuses are planning to try a similar model for nursing and pharmacy students.

The idea of reducing the time it takes to graduate from medical school isn’t exactly new, but it’s not very common. At least one three-year medical program can be found here in Canada. McMaster operates on an 11 months-a-year basis that allows students to qualify for the MD degree at the end of the third academic year. So do roughly 15 per cent of American schools. But the idea of combining undergraduate and graduate has so far been limited to places like Australia and Ireland. This may be a North American first.

Considering that it takes at least eight years between high school and medical residency, there’s another potential benefit to shortened programs for both patients and taxpayers. If doctors enter the workforce a year earlier and stay working a year longer, it would make life easier for the roughly 2-million Canadians who want a family doctor but can’t find one.