The process of becoming a doctor typically takes four or more years for students to complete. But now some universities are looking into shortening the process by one year — in part to minimize the burden of student debt.
New York University along with a group of other universities will offer to a select group of students the option of completing medical school in three years instead of four.
Art Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, says the length of time it takes to get a medical education ending is arduous — and this proposal looks to change that.
“You have two years of basic science at nearly every medical school. Then two years of clinical rotations; you dip into surgery, you see pediatrics, you get a sense of the different sub-specialties of medicine in the last two years,” he said.
This model was adopted from Germany in the early 1900’s after American Simon Flexner visited Europe. At the time, Germany had the best medical schools and had just instituted a system like the one the U.S. uses now.
But, Caplan says, he thinks the model is somewhat outmoded. Two years of basic science, for example, doesn’t give students enough mastery of the science to help anyone, he said.
“If you can get that down maybe to a years worth of work and keep the clinical activities as they are, I think you’re going to be able to get the smartest and the best of the medical school class to push through — going summers, starting a little bit early in the three years,” he said.
Internationally, it’s highly competitive, Caplan says. Schools like NYU are taking a gamble by considering shortening the program by a year because, if a program has the reputation of producing below average medical doctors out of their medical school, they’ll be hurt in the marketplace.
“It costs about $300,000 and more to get out of medical school given the tuition costs over four years,” he said. “If you can take some of that weight off the back of a medical student I think you’re going to see more people being able to go into a broader set of specialties.”
A medical student would be less likelyto pick the high priced-specialties like heart surgery or neurosurgery to pay off their debt, Caplan says, if costs decline. Instead, you’ll see students choose a broader range of specialties out of the three-year program because they’ll have less debt.
As for the overall savings of a three-year program, it’s significant.
“You’re probably talking about $60,000 in tuition, room and board and books and all the rest of it — saved out of that $300,000 cost,” he said.
NYU will select up to 10 percent of the class to take the three-year path to medical school, Caplan said, because they want to make sure it’s going to work. It will take probably five years to see how the students do.
One key measurement, Caplan says, will be if those students get the residencies they want.