For med school students, these may well be the best of times

Did you know that the headcounts of medical students and the schools that train them are both on the rise? I don’t know why that fact surprised me when I heard it recently, but it did. Maybe my thinking on the subject is stuck in the many years when the major national concern was a doctor glut.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the turnaround began right around the turn of the century. In the 15 years leading up to 2000, not a single new med school launched. But in the years since 2002, some 17 have been accredited. Nine more have applied, and the AAMC projects around 145 schools teaching around 21,000 students by 2020. This compares with just over 120 schools and 16,000 or so students in 2000. The turnaround seems to owe, in part, to warnings of a physician shortage, as the AAMC says we’re going to need almost 92,000 new docs by 2020 and 130,600 by 2025.

As for radiologists, the latest figures from ACR’s Commission on Human Resources Workforce Survey forecast job opportunities to grow, albeit modestly, over the next few years. The survey reported 1,114 job opportunities in 2014 with expectations of expansion to 1,131 in 2017. 

But enough about the quantities affecting med school attendance. More fascinating still is what’s happening to lift the quality of the med-school experience.

As an outsider looking in, I get the sense there’s never been a better time to be a medical student than right now. Big change is in the air, much of it stoked by technological advances, and a lot of it is exciting just to experience vicariously:

  • Erene Stergiopoulos, a science writer and medical student at the University of Toronto, recently described in delicious detail what it’s like to learn on an eerily lifelike fake brain aided by diffusion tensor MRI.
  • Sean Orton, a medical student at Touro University in New York, raved about dissecting holograms while wearing 3-D glasses and wielding “scalpels” that are, in fact, styluses.
  • Robert Wachter, MD, med-school educator at UC-San Fran and author of the New York Times science bestseller The Digital Doctor, underscored the criticality of preparing medical students to use technology, especially IT advances, in ways that don’t just enable patient-centered care but enhance it.

All this and the American Medical Association’s Creating the Medical School of the Future too. It’s almost enough to send a (ahem) seasoned healthcare reporter back to school to get with the times. 

-Dave Pearson
Senior Writer