Medical schools in the US are re-thinking curricula in efforts to produce better-trained physicians for the needs of the 21st century.  Trends in curriculum reform include earlier clinical practice; greater integration of biomedical science and social sciences, such as psychology; more flexible and individualized learning plans; and more team teaching.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt University, explains that curriculum changes in medical learning are necessary because “the rate of scientific discovery and the accumulation of knowledge are accelerating so rapidly” today. In an effort to create students who are tomorrow’s leaders, Vanderbilt has debuted Curriculum 2.0, “designed to offer a new model of learning, moving away from memorization of facts and toward critical thinking” (The Reporter). The new curriculum allows for more flexibility within the curriculum and introduces an interdisciplinary approach to learning biomedical science, social sciences, humanities, and clinical practice.

NYU School of Medicine is making substantial changes to their curriculum, starting with the implementation of Curriculum for the 21st Century, or C21. The innovative new curriculum provides students with a patient-centered and disease-focused medical education, paired with more flexibility for its students. NYU is also offering a small number of current students the chance to finish in three years instead of the traditional four. According to the New York Times, administrators at NYU believe they can make the change without compromising quality. Redundancies in the science curriculum will be eliminated, and students will begin clinical training more quickly. In an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a former health adviser to President Obama, said there was “substantial waste” in the nation’s medical education and that a physician’s total training of 14 years could be reduced by 30 percent.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has also called for medical education to include more training in empathy and responding to patients’ emotions, to meet the changing demographics and health care delivery system requirements, according to George Thibault, M.D., President.  The foundation advances the following proposals: “Expand training sites to non-hospital settings; expand the topics of medical education to include preventative care, aging, and the socioeconomic determinants of health; make medical education interdisciplinary; and make graduate medical education more accountable to the public good.”

In response to schools’ curricula changes, the American Medical Association (AMA) is establishing an initiative to accelerate changes in medical education for more flexible, individualized learning plans. The five-year plan includes establishing partnerships with select medical schools and health care systems and convening a consortium of medical schools to collaboratively evaluate successes. The AMA’s ambition is to promote change that better aligns education results with the changing needs of our health care system.