6 Medical School Trends to Watch For in 2013

If you’ve been keeping up with everything that has been going on in medical education, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2013. As medical education institutions face government officials who have recommended slashing funds for graduate medical education and the increasing gap between the number of medical school graduates looking for residencies and the number of residency slots that are actually available to them, it’s the perfect time to look at what’s on the horizon and see what’s in store for medical schools in 2013.

It is impossible, of course, to predict exactly what will happen in 2013, but here’s what medical education experts expect to
see based on current trends and the latest developments in medical education.
Medical school applicants of 2012 continued a trend of year-to-year jumps in the number of applications, with an increase of  over 10,000 applicants from a decade ago. The number of medical school applications has been increase over the last several
years, up to a high of 45,266 applicants and 636,309 applications for admission to medical school in 2012. In 2008, there were 42,231 applicants to medical school, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. In each year thereafter, the
number of applicants to medical school increased. This increase will likely continue in 2013.And with a larger number of applicants comes more competition. More students than ever are showing a strong interest in pursuing a career in medicine, making an acceptance letter to medical school that much tougher to obtain. No new news here – medical schools across the country, as well as those located outside of the U.S., will continue to see a rise in applicants.

But it’s not just any and everyone who make up the individuals who applying to medical school. The caliber of those who are applying to medical school is also worth mentioning. When it comes to the grades and MCAT scores, the most recent pool of applicants to medical school  remained competitive academically, with the average undergraduate GPA and median score on the MCAT holding steady over 2011, at 3.54 and 29, respectively. “Once again, exceptionally qualified individuals are applying to and enrolling in medical school,” said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., in a press release announcing the applicant data released in late October. “They have the combination to service that medical school admission committees are looking for these days.”

After a report that the U.S. will experience a shortage of about 45,000 primary care physicians by 2020, projections about the future of primary-care medicine has certainly found considerable media attention. From thinking about how medical schools can alleviate the shortage to introducing legislation  the shortfall in trained primary-care providers, the focus on primary-care medicine is likely to continue to address the looming workforce shortage. In light of dwindling number of students choosing primary-care medicine and rapid changes in health care policy that are increasing the need for primary care providers, medical
schools across the country are rolling out new programs to recruit more primary care physicians for general practice or in  underserved areas.Developing a way to identifying during the admissions process or early in medical school students who are committed to primary-care and addressing concerns about choosing a lower-paying primary-care position over a higher paying specialty, are just two of the many discussions that are sure to take place this year on this topic.

Between the new MCAT – which will now focus on social and behavior sciences – and the growing number of tools designed by the AAMC to help medical schools employ specific admissions principles, more and more schools are beginning to use the
holistic review to a greater extent during the admissions process. The population of students being considered by medical
school admissions committees are changing drastically as a growing number of schools look beyond grades and test
scores to select potential students. As a result, this year more schools will begin to align their admission mission to the
AAMC Holistic Review – a flexible, individualized way of assessing an applicant’s capabilities by which balanced consideration
is given to experiences, attributes, and academic metrics (E-A-M) and, when considered in combination, how the individual might contribute value as a medical student and future physician.For medical schools that haven’t already done so, a move toward the use of the holistic review of applicants will begin to occur more sooner than later. Schools will begin to place a greater focus not on applicants’ GPA and test scores, but their non-science experiences,personal attributes, and overall wellroundedness.

With the trend of evaluating students on a broader spectrum of factors, medical school will also begin accepting more students who are considered “non-traditional” applicants. In fact, in 2012, U.S. medical schools accepted a greater number of students with undergraduate majors in Humanities and Social Sciences compared to the previous year, according to data from the AAMC.

It is an unfortunate trend that while the number of students  graduating from medical school is on the rise, each year hundreds of these students find themselves with a degree and nowhere to train. Issues surround funding, federal cuts, and spending  limits that keep medical schools and residency programs from training more new doctors are all to blame for the number of  residency applicants exceeding the number of available slots.The dismal trend toward the widening gap between the number of residency positions available and number of medical school graduates means that a lot of attention. Most recently, the AAMC published a graph that displays the “yawning gap” between the increasing number of medical school graduates seeking residencies and the number of residency slots available to them. “This is the only time in history of the U.S. that we are going to see a decrease in practicing physicians,” said Atul Grover, MD, chief public policy officer of the AAMC. “Medical schools have responded to the physician shortage projected by the American Medical Association by increasing admissions, but residency programs have not been able to follow suit.”

The good news is that steps are already being taken to reverse this trend. In support of the effort to train more physicians, Rep. Joseph Crowley introduced a bill to Congress that would provide for the distribution of additional residency positions. This change could allow for the creation of approximately 15,000 new GME slots available to medical students across the country. Recently, the AMA launched a grassroots aign to bring awareness to the importance of strengthening graduate medical education to address the projected physician shortage. The AMA even went before the Institute of Medicine Committee on the Governance and Financing of Graduate Medical Education and recommended “not only preserving the current level of federal funding for GME and ensuring adequate, stable funding for GME, but increasing
GME funding to support, at minimum, a 15 percent increase in GME slots to address physician shortages in undersupplied
specialties and underserved areas.” Unfortunately, however, the growing residency gap will continue its discouraging trend
at least until these efforts are recognized by those with the powers that be.

An increasing number of medical schools across the country seem to be jumping on the iPad bandwagon, and not just  embracing the iPad as a learning tool but using the popular tablet to develop full-blown iPad-based curriculums for daily use in medical education. Ipads are quickly becoming a popular and powerful tool in today’s world of educating tomorrow’s doctors. They can encourage interactive learning styles, increase participation and engagement, and enables learning on a whole new level.Since its debut, the iPad has quickly made its way into the world of medical education and despite mixed reviews on fully  implementing an iPad-driven curriculum, those in medical education are more excited than ever about what the iPad can bring to a student’s learning experience in medical school.

In 2010, the University of California Irvine School of Medicine became the first in the country to utilize a completely digital,  interactive learning space for incoming students and announced their iMedEd Initiative – a comprehensive, iPad-based
curriculum designed to revolutionized how medicine is taught in the 21st century. “We are committed to using evolving technology to benefit the education of our medical students,” said Dr. Ralph V. Clayman, dean of the UCI School of Medicine. “It
is our firm belief that a digitally based curriculum will be the wave of the future, and UCI seeks to be a leader in the innovative presentation of information to students.”

Fast-forward three years and we now know that iPads are indeed very effective when it comes to enhancing the learning  environment for medical students. In February 2013, the UCI School of Medicine revealed that the first class participating in the iMedEd Initiative scored an average of 23 percent higher on their national exams than previous UC Irvine medical school classes, despite having similar incoming GPAs and MCAT scores. “At UC Irvine’s School of Medicine, we see each of our talented students as having a unique style of learning. It’s our challenge and responsibility to provide a broad array of educational opportunities so that every student can master the knowledge essential to becoming an outstanding healthcare
provider,” Clayman said. “By having all aspects of our medical school curriculum on iPad, learning becomes a 24/7 opportunity no longer tied to the classroom or a desk. We believe our students are learning better than they have in the past.”

Being evidently aware of the benefits of iPadbased learning within the education space, there has been a boom in the number of ideas and ways for iPads to enhance learning in medical school, turning the traditional medical education curriculum model on its head. In another study, when it came to the experience using iPad mobile learning devices, medical and dentistry students evaluation indicated improved learning experience (88%), positive effect on learning (85%) and making use of time previously wasted (78%) with overall productivity cited as being the greatest benefit.

The iPad will continue to gain popularity among medical schools and the growth of new and innovative ways to use the tablets to enhance the medical school learning experience will continue on. Companies are even beginning to make iPad-friendly long – and short – white coats, so by the look of things, this nifty device isn’t going anywhere and will definitely gain traction in 2013 and beyond.

Texas Tech University School of Medicine is doing it. Louisiana State University School of Medicine is doing it and now New York
University School of Medicine is doing it. Offering medical students the option to pursue a three-year medical degree, these schools along with several others are condensing the course of study to graduate medical students a year earlier than usual.With the price attached to obtaining a medical degree rising and medical students finding it more difficult to land a residency after match day, the option of completing medical school in three years, rather than four sounds like music to their ears.

“Currently, it takes an average of 10 years of medical school, residency, and fellowship to train a subspecialty physician. Such prolonged training delays entry into the workforce, decreasing years of productivity for patient care and research,” said Steven
Abramson, MD, vice dean for education, faculty, and academic affairs at NYU School of Medicine. “By eliminating redundancies, we abridged the traditional four-year MD degree while retaining the quality of the education and the 130 weeks of LCMErequired
study,” Dr. Abramson added.

More and more medical schools are experimenting with accelerated programs designed to not only get students practicing sooner, particularly in primary- care medicine, but also cut the cost of the MD degree, and thus we are seeking more 3-year MD degree programs beginning to emerge.

The idea of accelerated MD degrees isn’t exactly new but it is gaining ground, and thanks to federal grants, a handful of schools have put these fast-track programs in place. Schools such as Indiana University School of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, and East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine have also explored the idea of a 3-year MD track and more schools are sure to follow.

The number one explanation for this trend in medical education toward three- year degree is to attract more students to pursue careers in primary-care medicine and hopefully practice in underserved areas. “The major impetus was the recognition that one of the major issues in the health care system is the shortage of primary care physicians and the imbalance between primary care physicians and specialists,” said Steven Berk,MD, in a AMA article. “We believe that medical schools need to take part of the responsibility for that imbalance.”

The latest projections show that the shortage of primary care doctors will worsen significantly in the next 15 years. This may push a greater number of medical schools to offer three-year degree programs in response to the call to produce more primary care physicians. Quickening the pace of graduate medical education because of the demand for  more primary care physicians and financial costs will continue to be the greatest factors pushing the trend forward through 2013 and beyond.

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JSNMA is the flagship publication of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA). As the voice of the SNMA, it serves as an educational and outreach tool to upcoming doctors and researchers. Journal topics include medical education, research, health advocacy, career opportunities, cultural competency and community outreach.

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About the Author: JSNMA is the flagship publication of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA). As the voice of the SNMA, it serves as an educational and outreach tool to upcoming doctors and researchers. Journal topics include medical education, research, health advocacy, career opportunities, cultural competency and community outreach.

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