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We need more doctors. Do doctors need less medical school? COVID is forcing the question.

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Arthur “Tim” Garson Jr.

To help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of medical schools are permitting students to graduate early in their final year. This development brought to mind a memorable letter I received when I was dean at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Medical school usually lasts four years, and this letter came from the mother of a fourth-year student. She said her daughter had had a lot of time off and was about to fly to Tanzania to go hiking. She wondered whether she and her husband should be paying for this and whether it helped their daughter to be a better doctor

Good questions. I have asked myself the same things, and more. As I look back, when I attended Duke medical school, Duke had just started a new two-year base curriculum. The 1966 change meant the final two years of the four-year program were largely research and work with patients. Did that help to make better doctors? Or worse doctors? Maybe two years is enough.

We don’t know.

Shorter training means more doctors

Why does that matter to all of us?  Because if we shortened the curriculum by just one  year, more physicians could graduate and the projected shortage, as high as 139,000 physicians by 2033, could surely be eased.

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