AMA: Ensuring medical education best prepares future physicians

A guest column by the American Medical Association, exclusive to

by J. James Rohack, MD

ama_logo This year marks the 100th anniversary of the landmark Flexner Report that standardized medical education in North America. Now, during this historic time of health system change, medical education reforms on the scale of those enacted a century ago are needed to achieve a sustainable 21st-century. Preparing the next generation of physicians to best meet the health care needs of America is a critical challenge that the medical community is rising to meet.

Next week in Washington D.C., the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) will convene a historic conference “New Horizons in Medical Education: A Second Century of Achievement” to plan the future of medical education.

Representatives from every U.S. and Canadian medical school and hundreds of leaders in the medical education field including, physicians, medical students and residents will discuss and debate core issues in medical education to ensure that future physicians are best prepared to meet the health care needs of the 21st century patient. This conference will help the medical community create a roadmap for educating future generations of physicians, with recommendations based on the meeting discussion released later this year.

A key area of discussion at the conference will be how medical education can better prepare medical students to handle the challenges of real-life medical practice. Medical education needs to align more closely with the current practice of medicine and also prepare students for upcoming changes in the health care system.

Conference participants will also discuss how to meet the current and projected health care needs of America. By 2025, about 159,000 more physicians will be needed to care for the growing population, particularly in medical specialties such as primary care, geriatrics, and general surgery, and in underserved rural and inner-city areas of the country. The conference will look at how to make this a reality, including incentives for physicians to practice in needed areas.

Health information technology (IT), such as electronic prescribing and electronic medical records, will be discussed due to its great promise for improving patient safety and the quality of care in the practice of medicine. Medical education must prepare future physicians to make full use of the new opportunities provided by health IT tools. Technology can also support new methods of learning, like medical simulation, to help students at all levels hone their skills in a realistic environment.

These are three of the core areas under discussion and other topics include, better aligning the medical education continuum, new methods to finance medical education, researching best practices, and the importance of social accountability and faculty leadership.

The recommendations from the conference will be influenced by the realities of medical practice today as well as coming changes. With historic participation and buy-in from all U.S. medical schools, medical education can better prepare future physicians to provide high-quality patient care and thrive in our health care system.

The conference agenda includes key speeches that can be heard online shortly after at

J. James Rohack is immediate past president of the American Medical Association.

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