In what officials hope to be the beginning of a nationwide initiative to help attract medical students to primary care, Texas Tech University's Health Sciences Center School of Medicine will launch a "first of its kind" three-year medical degree program to allow outstanding students emphasizing on primary care to complete a program at half the cost of a traditional medical school program.
"The high cost of medical school and resulting debt are major challenges for many prospective medical students," said Michael Ragain, MD, from the university health sciences center's department of family and community medicine. "Our program addresses debt on two levels: first by shortening the program from four to three years, and second, by providing scholarships to all qualifying students."
The university's program was approved by the liaison committee on medical education, the accrediting authority for medical education programs leading to the MD degree in U.S. and Canadian medical schools. The accrediting authority is sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association.
Simon Williams, PhD, associate dean for the health sciences center school of medicine, says 10 students will be selected initially out of 140 incoming medical students this fall. "Normally, we send 10 to 15 students each year into a [primary care] career, and we anticipate that will increase," Williams says. "Our primary goal is to make [a dent] on the shortage of family medicine physicians. One of the reasons is the amount of debt that is incurred by a family."
"For the average medical student, the debt amounts to $150,000. We're planning on removing the fourth year to decrease the debt substantially," says Williams. Students admitted to the program will be studying under an accelerated academic setting, he says, beginning in October.
Williams says the new program would enable outstanding family medicine students to reduce the length of medical school by 25 %, and the new program would essentially cut the debt in half, as schooling becomes more expensive in later years.
The university believes the timing of the program is important because "training primary care physicians is a national issue that targets both rural and urban areas," according to Ragain. Since 1997, U.S. medical school graduate matches in family medicine and general internal medicine programs have decreased by 50%. An American Academy of Family Physicians workforce survey in 2006 estimated that the U.S. would need about 39,000 more family physicians by 2020.
"Training primary care physicians is a national issue that targets both rural and urban areas," Ragain said. "With programs such as this, we can double the number of primary care physicians available to care for the U.S. population."
Steven Berk, MD, dean of the Texas Tech University health sciences center school of medicine added, "This is a program of national importance as we work to ensure that all Americans will have access to a primary care physician."
Under the program, the curriculum includes early introduction to clinical care in family medicine that spans the entire second year of the program. "The students will participate in additional activities during the revised three-year curriculum to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to be fully qualified and excellent primary care physicians," Williams says.