Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Future of Medical Education: 2011

Happy New Year from Scrub Notes! We sincerely hope you were able to enjoy a much-deserved break from the trials and tribulations of becoming a medical professional during this holiday season. However, with 2011 now officially upon us, what does the new year have to bring in the medical education arena? As we look ahead, we see three major areas of change: the further integration of technology into medical teaching, the growth of dual-degree candidates, and the changes to resident work hours in the U.S.

Technology & Medical Education
With the rise of very powerful mobile computing, the medical establishment will have to work harder to make these tools available for young practitioners. Unlike the failed efforts a decade ago to have a Palm Pilot in every palm, students and residents are increasingly acquiring these devices on their own and demanding support for them. Whether it's an iPhone or an iPad (or even iPod Touch) or Android device, everyone wants to be connected not only to each other but to information sources like Wikipedia or PubMed. Face it, these days only doctors and drug dealers use pagers... medical schools and hospitals need to upgrade their IT infrastructure to fully support these devices. Instead of paper copies of Pocket Medicine, the future holds the promise of everyone carrying Harrison's AND Robbins in their pocket on their fancy 4G devices.

Dual-Degree Candidates
Programs such as MD/MPH, MD/JD, and MD/MBA have exploded over the last ten years. As the economy sours, job candidates have seen the dual utility in dual degrees. First, by staying in school longer, they have a better shot at timing the job market better. Why not get more education while waiting for that plum job to present itself? Second, with so many people competing for single spots, especially in competitive fields like radiology in competitive areas like New York or SF/Bay Area, having that extra degree can really make a job candidate stand out. What private practice wouldn't want more partners with some business acumen? It also helps candidates average out risk; if that whole "clinic 5 days a week" doesn't work out, you could more easily branch into alternative/associated medical careers such as healthcare management. Somebody has to run all those hospitals after all. Why not you?

Work Hour Changes
As the work hours decrease again, residency programs will have to figure out how to balance clinical duties and resident education while adhering to the new standards. Those opposed to the new standards view them as a further erosion of inculcating the idea that physicians need to put their patients' care first above arbitrary regulations. Those supporting the changes argue that better rested physicians-in-training with more balanced personal/work lives will be more effective physicians and ultimately serve their patients better, despite spending fewer hours total in the hospital. Only time will tell which view is correct, but judging by medical education systems in other countries, patient care and resident education will not change significantly one way or the other.

Whatever happens, 2011 promises to hold some significant changes in medical education. But, for the current class of MS4s, this month is that final push before the Match. Therefore, during January and February we will be publishing posts aimed at MS3s and MS4s, describing the paths to succeed in matching in various specialties, starting with anesthesia, as well as general interviewing and match tips. Good luck in 2011!

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