Groundbreaking New Medical School Aims To Build A New Type Of Doctor

Dell Medical School Innovative

study conducted for the AAMC expects shortages of between 12,500 and 31,100 primary care physicians, and 28,200 and 63,700 non-primary care physicians by 2015. To begin addressing the increasing demand for physicians, new types of medical schools are being conceptualized across the nation. The new campuses are innovative not only in their approach to remedy shortages, but also in their curriculum development. The plan is to build a course of study that allows future doctors to spend dedicated time on research, and get to know their patients on a level that will inspire prolonged preventative care.  

For example, Austin Dell Medical School at the University of Texas will welcome its first class of students this summer, the first MD-training institution built into a top tier research university in about 5 decades. Part of their innovative program includes designing a patient reimbursement system that rewards their adherence to preventative care habits. Students will also spend a year working at the same outpatient clinic, following and treating the same patients; this gives them a unique opportunity to actually get to know their patients and begin thinking like a doctor.  

Dr. Barbara Atkinson, founding dean of a similar medical school set to launch in 2017 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, boasts that,

“The students will actually get to know their own patients. They’ll be able to see how you actually treat diabetes over time, not just how you deal with someone hospitalized for a few days, and they’ll be able to follow an entire pregnancy over nine months.”

Another unique feature of the medical teaching institution is its curriculum focus on the healthcare system as a whole, identifying broader systemic issues that have a large impact on individual patients’ health. From there, they hope this new crop of medical students will lead a national conversation about proactively making changes to how our society approaches healthcare:

“My problem isn’t just the patient who sits directly in front of me, my problem is addressing a system that impacts the person right in front of me, and the 1,000 other patients that I’ll see, and patients I don’t want to ever have to see,” Johnston says.

Even with such grand intentions, this new crop of medical schools has, and will continue to face several obstacles.  Though it may be easier for larger schools to obtain funds from their administration toward a new school, these funds alone are not enough. Aggressive fundraising campaigns are required, as well as convincing taxpayers and applying for government assistance. Austin Dell, for example, was able to obtain a total of $65 million from its administration, but it took months to get approval on the tax increases that will help fund the school over the coming years.   The schools will also have to secure long-term donors to continue the operation of the schools, and many of their initial funds have 5 or 10-year limitations.

Another difficulty is convincing students to attend a non-accredited institution, rather than one of the nearly 150 established medical schools in the nation. Though the institution has received preliminary accreditation, full accreditation does not occur until after the initial class is completing their fourth year, so new students cannot be guaranteed that they will graduate from an accredited university.

So far Dell Medical School has faced these challenges head on, and has been the first MD institution of its kind to be conceptualized and built in many years. Dean Clay Johnston has been an avid supporter of the innovation process, and has ensured that his staff will be equally representative of the school’s mission.

“We are rethinking everything about medical education and the appropriate role of a physician in the community. As a result, we designed a school in which students will learn in ways that are fundamentally different from their counterparts at established medical schools — ways that, we think, represent the evolving needs and challenges of 21st century health and health care”.

Sierra Kennedy
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