Of all the professions in which one might want to uphold the highest educational standards, medicine must be at the top of the list. When you go to the doctor, do you want your doctor to say, "I soaked up every ounce of knowledge possible during the fourteen years I spent learning how to save your life." Or would you rather hear, "How'd I like med school? I graduated early, breezed right through that business." If universities follow New York University's lead, the latter will become the reality. Starting next year, NYU and a handful of other medical schools will offer the option for students to enroll in an accelerated program that lets them finish in three years, instead of four. The motivation behind the change? It's cheaper.
In a way, shortening medical school makes solid sense. The four years a future doctor spends in medical school is just a fraction of her training. Usually, there are at least another six years after that: one year doing an internship, at least three years in residency and sometimes another two doing a fellowship. And only then do the new doctors start earning those awesome salaries that can pay back the $150,000 or so in student loans that they accumulated getting their degree.
NYU and other educators says that knocking a year off the first phase of that process won't sacrifice the quality of training and will save their students about $49,560 in tuition, not to mention books, room and board. There's some additional summer school, and performance requirements keep the three-year students in check. Meanwhile, NYU hopes that the savings will encourage more people to become doctors. "We're confident that our three-year students are going to get the same depth and core knowledge, that we're not going to turn it into a trade school," Dr. Steven Abramson, a vice dean at NYU's medical school, told The New York Times this weekend.
But isn't this one of those cut-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face problems? If the problem with medical school is that it's scaring off students because too expensive, shouldn't we be talking about how to make medical school cost less or how to provide more scholarships or something? Finding these kinds of solutions might even help other students hungry for higher education, since we're sort of in the midst of a student debt crisis.
Furthermore, we've tried this before. As The Times explains, federal funding encourages several experiments to shorten medical school during the 1960s and 1970s. Three year students performed just as well as four year students on tests, but the shorter program limited their options for residency, where doctors were nervous about getting undertrained residents. The public perception of less training for doctors, meanwhile, is hard to quantify, but you can refer to the little quiz we constructed at the top of this post. If you picked the doctor who went to school longer, you're probably not a fan of this plan.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.