Med schools urged to prepare tomorrow’s docs for a fast-changing field

Intensifying pressure to meet accreditation competencies. Heated calls from consumer groups for absolute transparency in medical costing and decision-making. The exploding displacement of fee-for-service by riskier, ever-more-frugal payment models. It’s enough to chase a modern medical student into another line of work.

Robert Wachter, MD, associate chair of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, and founder of the hospitalist specialty, took up these and other challenges that med schools must now reckon with if they are to adequately prepare soon-to-be physicians for modern medical practice. He offered his observations at a special “med ed” session hosted by the American Medical Association and held at UC-San Francisco in mid-June.

According to AMA Wire, participants included representatives from 11 medical schools to which the AMA has awarded $1 million grants with the intention of helping them “reshape the way physicians are trained.”

In his talk, Wachter, author of the New York Times science bestseller The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age, touched on numerous pressures at hand but largely focused on ways technology can help advance patient-centered care.

He advised attendees to avoid molding medical students into informatics experts and urged educators to, instead, “reimagine” how IT tools are “positioned in the larger geography of team-based care, health systems and practice workflows,” AMA Wire reported.  

Wachtel added that medical schools can pull this off by:

  • steering clear of “de-skilling,” which can happen when relying on computers to guide diagnoses and treatment plans;
  • managing big data by working with medical informaticists as full members of the care team; and
  • educating students about IT’s present and potential impact on workflows, specialty culture and patient communication.

“It’s up to all of us to figure out how to socialize and professionalize our trainees so they know that, even though they’re getting data off a computer, that’s not who they’re treating,” Wachtel said. “They’re treating a real person.”

Responding to the article, a reader identifying himself as a senior physician posted a thought-provoking comment. “Each hospital has a different system. Each office system differs. Many of us do not have the resources to commit thousands of dollars in time and training as we approach retirement,” he wrote. “We are being pushed aside, just as a doctor shortage explodes. No one has addressed this issue.”