The American way of training its doctors has been a long-standing tradition. The first two years of medical school are crammed with lectures, laboratories, and exams—patient contact is limited. In years three and four, medical students begin their clinical rotations, during which they’re frequently called “doctor” by patients and professors. After graduating from medical school (usually deep in debt) comes three or more years of residency training.
For decades, the content and methods have remained essentially unchanged … until the pandemic came along. Now medical schools are on a fast-track to train a post-pandemic generation of doctors.
An emphasis will be placed on addressing the role played by socioeconomic disparities in the medical system, so-called social determinants of disease. Cultural competency will become an integral part of the medical school curriculum. And the emotional well-being of physicians will be addressed early-on as students are taught strategies for dealing with stress and burnout.
This time of crisis has exposed critical workforce shortages, especially of doctors trained in emergency medicine and anesthesiology. It has revealed the vulnerability of a rapidly aging population, uncovering an acute need for more geriatricians and primary care physicians. Meanwhile, it’s projected that a slowing birth rate will decrease the demand for obstetricians and pediatricians. But not all of the occupational trends will be driven by a shift to the needs of an aging population. The Labor Department projects the number of psychiatrists to rise 12% by 2029.
Telehealth training— “webside manner” as opposed to bedside manner—will likely become part of the new medical school curriculum. But this is yet to be determined. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Marissa Schlueter, a senior intelligence analyst at CB Insights said, “We need to see a longer-term persistence of utilization in a non-pandemic environment to really say telehealth is here to stay.”
It also appears that the pandemic may be responsible for the recent uptick in medical school applications. The Association of American Colleges reports that the number of students applying to enter medical school this year is up 18% from last year’s number. Admiration for front-line healthcare workers and other role models like Dr. Anthony Fauci is said to be a major reason behind this unprecedented increase.
The ultimate result remains to be seen. Perhaps an increase in the number of qualified minority applicants will lead to a more diversified student body, one that will look more like the American population.