An Eye on the Future: Medical Schools Emphasize Preventive Medicine

Healthcare Of Tomorrow Conference

Many medical schools in America are emphasizing preventive care with the hope that students will understand its value early in their careers. The idea they are trying to drive home is that a relatively minor medical condition, if left undiagnosed or untreated, can fester and become chronic, debilitating, and sometimes even fatal.

At the Healthcare of Tomorrow Conference organized by U.S. News in early November 2016, experts discussed the unfortunate, but all too common scenario when someone with a serious medical condition does not receive regular healthcare. On the other hand, a well-timed preventive check can save a person’s life.

The role of preventative medicine education

At “The Medical School Startup: Reshaping Medical Education” panel during the conference, experts talked about the importance of educating young doctors about the immense potential of preventive medicine. The panel, moderated by Anne McGrath of U.S. News, debated whether medical schools in America are doing enough in this regard.

Dr. Edward Ellison, chairman of the board of the Southeastern Permanente Medical Group in Georgia and the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, narrated a story that illustrates the importance of preventive medicine:

A medical receptionist insisted that a patient he knew get a mammogram that was overdue. The study revealed cancer, which was treated in a timely manner. The receptionist’s vigilance likely saved the patient’s life.

The panelists hope that with an eye on the future, U.S. medical schools will focus even greater efforts on providing training in preventive medicine to budding doctors. However, experts at the conference expressed concern that fewer young doctors are opting for a career in family medicine and public health. Primary care doctors are the first point of care for patients and offer the easiest access to preventive medicine.

Improving the current medical education model

Inaugural Dean of the University of Texas at Austin’s Dell Medical School, Dr. S. Claiborne “Clay” Johnston raised another concern. “While costs continue to rise, there is no real improvement in outcomes,” he lamented. This indicates that there is a need to develop healthcare delivery models that are not only more economical but offer expanded access to the most vulnerable and impoverished Americans. The opportunity we have now is to develop the most appropriate model of medical education, he said.

Another panelist, Dr. J. Gregory Fitz, executive vice president, academic affairs, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, described the current scenario as nothing short of a healthcare crisis. Medical schools shape the future of medicine. It is our duty and responsibility to intervene, he said.

The founding dean of New York’s CUNY School of Medicine, Dr. Maurizio Trevisan, raised another vital consideration, the importance of diversity in the medical student population. Students from immigrant families and low-income households are more likely to go back and serve their communities. They have a better understanding of the health problems that plague their people and are the best equipped to address inequities. Unfortunately, these are the kids that never make it to medical school, he added.

Ariel Jacoby
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