The medical education system in the U.S. has been facing a great deal of criticism over the past few years. Issues like burnout, depression, work-life balance, and the rising cost of medical school have been hot topics in the media. But with all of this focus on the negatives, we often don’t hear about the other side of the argument.
Here are 5 reasons why the U.S. medical education system is great.
- Length of Training
- Challenging Environment
- Quality of Instructors
1 | Length of Training
Let’s start with the length of training. Although the U.S. has one of the longest pathways to becoming a physician out of any developed country, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By requiring a 4-year Bachelor’s degree prior to medical school, aspiring physicians are able to explore other interests before committing to a career in medicine.
Although most premeds complete degrees in biology, biochemistry, or another science-related field, there are no restrictions on the type of degree you need to obtain prior to medical school. As long as you complete the prerequisite courses and hold some form of Bachelor’s degree, you can apply.
By allowing students to explore other interests and subjects outside of medicine before medical school, students are able to bring unique perspectives and experiences to the medical profession.
Requiring a 4-year degree prior to medical school also provides students with more time to gain exposure to the medical field through shadowing and volunteer work before committing to a career as a doctor. As such, premeds are able to enter their medical training with a far better understanding of the realities of being a physician.
During college, premeds are also exposed to a variety of students, many of which are pursuing career paths outside of medicine. By seeing all of these different people and the different career paths available, premeds gain insight into what other careers are out there, ultimately making their decision to pursue a career in medicine much more intentional.
This reduces the fear of missing out or “FOMO” that often comes with committing to a career without having explored other options first. It also reduces the likelihood that students will regret their decision to pursue medicine as they will have had more opportunities to explore the profession and understand what they’re getting themselves into.
2 | Challenging Environment
The challenging environment during medical school and residency also serves as a catalyst for students to grow and mature as individuals.
Although there are issues that come with the rigors of medical education, being in a challenging environment often forces students to adapt and evolve. As they say, diamonds are just lumps of coal that did well under pressure.
Research has shown that some stress is actually ideal and can help you perform better. This is explained by the Yerkes-Dodson Law, which says that up to a certain point, increased arousal can help your performance.
When the stress becomes too much, however, performance starts to decline. That being said, if you are able to refine your systems and find balance during your medical training, you will grow immensely as a person throughout the process.
In addition to personal growth, the challenging environment in medical school also helps foster strong relationships between you and your peers. You are surrounded by other students that are experiencing the same challenges, and shared suffering often creates some of the strongest bonds. It’s not uncommon to develop friendships during medical school that will last a lifetime.
3 | Curriculum
The medical school curriculum has also changed and evolved throughout the last few decades and has many positive aspects.
To start, an increasing number of medical schools have adopted pass-fail curriculums during the preclinical years. The benefit of this is that it decreases competition between students and encourages collaboration. When curriculums are pass-fail, students are not as concerned about their peer’s performance and how it may negatively affect their chances of matching into their desired residency program.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have also transitioned away from mandatory lectures and have given students the option to use a “flipped classroom” approach to learning by providing pre-recorded lectures and other educational materials. This allows students to gain their first exposure to the information at home through self-directed and self-paced learning before practicing and applying that knowledge in the classroom setting.
As a result, students are able to learn at their own pace instead of being forced to conform to the pace of their instructor. This allows them to spend their time more efficiently and better optimize their learning.
For instance, if a student has a strong understanding of a particular topic, they can speed through that part of the lecture at 2x speed. And when they reach a topic that they struggle with, they can slow things down and take more time to understand it.
This approach also allows classroom time to be devoted to active learning instead of passive learning. Many schools have incorporated more problem-based learning into their curriculums and present students with clinical cases aimed at reinforcing the topics that they’re learning. This forces students to think critically and apply their knowledge to real-world situations.
Not only does this help tie what students are learning to the clinical setting, but it also challenges them to use higher levels of thinking than they normally use during studying. This is beneficial as these higher levels of thinking have been shown to aid in the long-term retention of information.
In addition, problem-based learning reinforces the same problem-solving skills that medical students will ultimately use in practice as a physician.
4 | Research
Next is the heavy emphasis on research during medical school. Although some may see this as a negative, there are some advantages to research during medical school.
To be a physician means that you are also a lifelong student. Our understanding of medicine is constantly evolving, so the learning doesn’t stop when you finish medical school and residency. There will always be new situations that arise and new information that comes out that you weren’t exposed to during your training. In some instances, you may even be thrust into the middle of a pandemic and have to treat patients with an illness that science doesn’t fully understand yet.
As such, being able to read and interpret research is an important skill for physicians. It allows them to go straight to the source of new information and critically assess its strengths and weaknesses.
No research study is perfect and every single one is subject to its own biases and limitations, so by understanding the research process intimately, physicians are able to recognize the nuance and not just take the researcher’s conclusions at face value.
5 | Quality of Instructors
Lastly, there’s the quality of instructors in the U.S.
The countries that pay doctors the most and offer the greatest chance for advancement often attract the top talent, and the U.S. offers some of the highest salaries for physicians of any country in the world.
As a result, many foreign-trained physicians are attracted to the U.S. despite the challenges of obtaining the right to practice here permanently. And because the supply is so high, the U.S. is often able to cherry-pick the top talent.
The ability to attract top talent to the United States is not unique to medicine either. We can see this in a variety of other industries as well. In computer science, for instance, top talent are often attracted to Silicon Valley as this is where many of the tech giants are like Apple and Google. As such, this is where they can take their careers the farthest. Practicing medicine in the United States is no different.
In addition to high salaries attracting top physicians, the economic structure of the United States rewards innovation and creativity. The U.S has more clinical trials than any other country, strong intellectual property laws, and significant public and private investment in research and development. As a result, the U.S. is a world leader in healthcare innovation and often sets the standard for other countries to follow suit.
With access to new technologies and some of the best and brightest physicians in the world, medical students in the U.S. are often at the cutting edge of medicine.
Although medical education in the United States is not without its faults, there are still many things that it gets right. If you’re considering a career in medicine, it is important to be aware of its shortcomings; however, it is equally important not to give in to negativity bias. Just like anything else, medical education has its own pros and cons and it is imperative to understand both sides when deciding if this is the career for you.
At Med School Insiders our goal is to empower a generation of happier, healthier, and more effective future doctors, and part of that is helping students overcome the challenges of medical education to become the best physicians they can be.
Our team is made up of top-performing doctors who received merit-based scholarships at the nation’s top medical schools and they can show you how to do the same. From MCAT tutoring and medical school admissions to USMLE tutoring and residency applications, we’re here to help you at each step of the way.
If you want to be a stellar applicant and receive one-on-one advising, tutoring, interview preparation, personal statement or secondary editing, mentorship, and more to become the strongest applicant you can be, we have a variety of admissions consulting services to help you on your journey to becoming a physician.