The Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University has received approval from its accrediting body, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, to officially begin the process of redesigning its four-year core MD curriculum to three years.
The redesign, which should be completed in time for the 2021-22 academic year, paves the way for a more career-tailored fourth year, MCG officials say, with options to enter a primary care residency, spend time honing clinical and research skills or complete a dual degree.
Option 1, in what the medical school has called the MCG 3+ curriculum, would see some students graduate in three years and immediately enter a residency in either family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology or general surgery. Those students would then commit to practicing in an underserved area of the state in exchange for free tuition and/or student loan forgiveness, an aspect of the program that is still dependent on funding.
“We’re looking to the future of medical education. The MCG 3+ curriculum is evidence of our commitment to innovation and to better health for rural Georgia,” says Augusta University President Dr. Brooks Keel. “By allowing doctors to complete their medical education and training quicker and with less debt, we’re helping tackle one of Georgia’s most pressing problems and ensuring the future health of all the people who call it home. We need support to do that, and we’re appreciative to our accreditors for giving us theirs.”
“As the state’s only public medical school, it is our duty to ensure a Georgia that is healthy, both physically and economically,” adds MCG Dean Dr. David Hess. “The physician shortage, especially in underserved areas, is a huge problem that’s only going to worsen over time. We know that primary care physicians not only improve a community’s overall health, by preventing and managing chronic conditions on an outpatient basis, but they also bring jobs and other businesses with them. By placing more of these physicians in underserved areas, we’ll be ensuring a healthy future for every corner of our state.”
Another fourth-year option for students in the new curriculum is completing a dual degree program, like the university’s MD/MBA or MD/MPH programs. The final option would allow the majority of students to use the traditional fourth year to participate in advanced clinical training or research in their chosen future career specialty.
“The entire redesign effort is very career focused,” says Dr. D. Douglas Miller, MCG vice dean for academic affairs. “There is a primary care career option; an academic pathway with dual degree options, because we know most students who pursue dual degrees want careers as academic faculty; and there’s an advanced clinical skills training or research option, which gives students time to delve into their chosen specialty and have a much richer fourth-year experience.”
Some changes to the current MD curriculum that students will start experiencing next academic year, which begins July 2020, include adjusting all seven core clerkships — like those in family medicine and pediatrics, for instance — to a standardized six-week model. In the current curriculum, some clerkships are four weeks, some are six and some are eight. This change will allow clinical clerkship training to be completed in 18 months.
Students will also start taking what Miller calls a “single-pass” curriculum in their first and second, basic science-focused years, where abnormal and normal body systems are taught at the same time. There also will be more of a focus on small group, case-based learning (CBL), which pairs a basic scientist and clinician teaching based on real medical cases.
“The curriculum will emphasize the quality of a medical education over its duration, with students progressively achieving competencies, in addition to passing tests,” Miller says. A three-year core curriculum would still provide 130 weeks of instruction, required for accreditation by the LCME.
The changes will require resources, he notes. “We will have to hire additional medical educators, upskill some of our current faculty and reconfigure our learning spaces, because while there will still be classroom lectures, there will be a greater focus on case-based learning, which requires more small group rooms,” he says. “This is one of the most significant curriculum redesign efforts in MCG’s history, but the organization is ready for transformative change. That’s a credit to the support from the dean and Augusta University administration, and to the dedication of our faculty and staff to medical education excellence.”
At least a third of U.S. medical schools are considering accelerated tracks, according to a 2016 article in Medical Education Online. The Consortium of Accelerated Medical Pathway Programs, launched in 2015 by eight schools with funding from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, has grown to 16.