• August 28, 2015

Texas Tech Announces 3-Year Degree in Family Medicine

Texas Tech University's medical school has announced plans for a medical degree that students will be able to complete in three years, rather than the usual four.

The accelerated program, one of the first since a few medical schools tried the concept in the 1970s, is aimed at making it easier and more affordable for students to become family doctors.

In addition to shaving a year off their studies, it will give students at the university's Health Sciences Center School of Medicine a $13,000 scholarship to cover tuition and fees during their first year.

West Texas, like much of the nation, faces a shortage of primary-care physicians, and medical educators say one of the reasons is that medical students graduate with debts averaging $156,000 and earn less in primary care than they would in other specialties.

"Texas Tech is committed to taking the first steps in changing how medical schools attract and educate future family-medicine doctors," Steven L. Berk, dean of the Texas medical school, said in a written statement on Wednesday. The program, which has been approved by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accreditor for M.D. programs, will begin in the fall of 2011.

Advocates of a three-year degree say that much of the fourth year is spent on electives that are geared toward specialties other than primary care. Critics counter that compressing an already packed curriculum would compromise the quality of a medical degree.

A few medical schools offered three-year degrees in the 1970s, but they were discontinued, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. An association official said, in an interview last year, that students and faculty members found the programs too grueling because they required skipping summer vacations and working three straight years.

The idea has gained steam in recent years, though, as student debts have soared and the popularity of family medicine among practitioners has plummeted. The field remains popular among graduates of osteopathic schools, which emphasize holistic practices and primary care. At least one such school, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, currently offers a three-year degree in primary-care medicine.

Two Canadian medical schools, at McMaster University and the University of Calgary, also offer three-year degrees.

The sweeping health-care legislation that President Obama signed into law this week is expected to make 32 million more people eligible for insurance coverage and put more strains on the nation's primary-care work force.

In a promising sign last week, the number of U.S. medical-school graduates opting for primary-care residencies grew. It was the first such increase after a decade of declines. Some medical educators speculated that was partly attributable to the renewed attention to primary care during the health-care debate and the financial incentives for family practitioners that were included in the new health law.


1. acetylcholine - March 25, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Don't the electives serve some purpose in educating those who don't go into those specialties about the particulars of diagnoses in those fields, if they stay as generalists?

2. greenhills73 - March 25, 2010 at 12:36 pm

The UMKC School of Medicine packs a BA/MD into six continuous years and has done so since the School opened in 1971. Students have one month off during the summer. Students have med school classes right along with the coursework for their baccalaureate degree, with early and frequent patient contact beginning with day one. This program does not water down the MD. To the contrary, their graduates exceed the national average in USMLE Step 1 first time pass rate and residency match rate. Their graduates are well-respected in their fields. Other medical schools, including Harvard, shopping for ideas for ways to overhaul their curriculum, have taken notice of UMKC.
Kudos to TT for also recognizing that it is possible to educate physicians in a manner outside the traditional method. This may be too grueling for some students, and that's fine - those may continue to apply to traditional schools.

3. arnoldj - March 25, 2010 at 03:40 pm

Is anyone doing a fast-track program for would-be doctors who were, say, English majors and need to pick up the prerequisites? I have a brilliant young friend who is in that position, needs what she thinks would amount to two years of prerequisites, can't afford to stop working to go back to school. Or is there financiual aid specifically for that need?

4. 11242237 - March 25, 2010 at 04:11 pm

The University of Missour-Kansas City (UMKC)has had a six-year, combined baccalaureate/MD degree program for almost 40 years, essentially the curriculum design remaining substantially similar to that of the original model. Students go year round, no summer vacations, but one month vacation anytime each year. They have a curriculum which completely integrates the liberal arts, basic sciences, and clinical medicine over a 6 year period, and they receive dual degrees, a BA or BS, and an M.D.

5. greenhills73 - March 25, 2010 at 04:38 pm

#4 - Look, we are on the same page! Periodically we read about another med school considering a model similar to ours, as if it is something innovative, and I think, "Nothing new here!"

6. markjelavich - March 26, 2010 at 11:22 am

Don't forget all the nurse practitioner (NP) and physician assistant (PA) programs-- these programs are training medical professionals who can do much of the work of general practice MDs, but in much less time and cost. PA's and NP's can do alot to reduce the shortage of general practice doctors, but seemed to have been overlooked in the debates over health care.

7. greenhills73 - March 26, 2010 at 01:13 pm

#6 - I totally agree, and that's an excellent point. One of the main reasons it is so difficult to attract family practice physicians to places outside major metro areas is that they cannot make enough money to repay their loans. I imagine NPs and PAs might have smaller loan debt and could probably handle the majority of patients. As I understand it, both of those must work under the direct (not necessarily in the same room but in the same practice)supervision of a physician, but I would think one physician could supervise a large group of NPs and PAs. Does anyone know if that's allowed?

8. markjelavich - March 27, 2010 at 09:08 am

#7-- My understanding is that MD supervision rules vary by state, i.e., some states allow more NP/PA 'independence' that others. NPs just don't practice in rural or other underserved areas: note that number of NP clinics at chain drugstores in suburbs (CVS, Walgreens, etc.).

9. dthornton9 - March 27, 2010 at 09:25 am

#3 sorry for your "Brilliant" friend - but it's not the general public's problem that she did not correctly decide her major and career goals. And if she can't afford to do the MD prep work, how does she really think she can afford to go to medical school? She can't. I can't do a flip on a balance beam either, and I always wanted to. That's part of growing up. To live with the decisions you make/right or wrong. As an English Major, I'm not quite sure what she will do to earn a living - but she (and her parents) should have considered that before.

If she just MUST work in medicine she could go into the medical office management - that will be a growing and well paid field. Or into nursing home/assisted living management, or into the non-profit/hospice management. They're making a killing off of medicare. Or become a Physician's Assistant. And MD is not the be all and end all in terms of working in the medical field.

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