Are 3-year medical degrees good enough for future docs?

To help close the primary care physician gap, more medical schools are turning to a three-year solution, offering future primary care doctors an accelerated program and major savings.

Three-year primary care programs at Georgia's Mercer University School of Medicine and Texas Tech University School of Medicine will soon be joined by similar fast-track programs in Tennessee, Indiana, Medical College of Wisconsin, East Carolina, and Kentucky, MedPage Today reported. NYU School of Medicine also offers a three-year program. 

To condense four years of medical school training into three, Mercer and Texas Tech left the first three years largely unchanged and shortened or eliminated fourth-year clinical rotations. Supporters of the three-year program also propose teaching core science courses during undergraduate years.

"We chose to do it on the clinical end rather than basic science end because, as long as Step 1 is as important as it is, our students need to be fully prepared for it. We didn't make any changes to the curriculum that would threaten our students' ability to do well on those exams," Betsy Jones, vice chair of research in Texas Tech's Department of Family Medicine, told MedPage.

At NYU School of Medicine, three-year students start six weeks earlier than four-year students with a rotation in the residency program of their choice. Three-year students also do a fellowship in the same department during the summer between their first and second year, according to the NYU's website.

Moreover, with a condensed schedule, medical students save one year's tuition-- a savings of $40,000 to $50,000. They also can earn more than $200,000 as a regular doctor sooner than students in a conventional four-year program making $50,000 as a resident, according to U.S. News & World Report.

But not all health educators favor the fast-track approach and urge caution when redesigning medical education. "Some of the prior 'experiments' with 3-year curricula were not successful. Because training the next generation of physicians is a critically important task it is of the utmost importance that we not rush into a change simply because it is quicker and cheaper," Mayo School of Medicine Dean Sherine Gabriel, M.D., told MedPage.

For more:
- here's the MedPage article
- read the U.S. News article
- check out NYU's program