It seems everywhere you look in health care today; some consultant is telling you that “less” is actually “more.” Less care leads to more quality. Less expense brings better outcomes. Nurse practitioners with less training are more cost effective. Fewer work hours for residents builds a safer hospital environment.
Never in our entire history have we gotten so much for so little.
Arshya Vahabzadeh asks whether shortening medical school is a good idea. A fairly nuanced piece, a balanced viewpoint is given. I was particularly interested in the conversation surrounding time-based verse competency based assessment. In many ways, I think it is helpful to view the changes overtaking medicine through this lens.
In the old way of thinking, medicine was an art. Like learning to play the violin, mastery was a distant mountain with many peaks and valleys. The climber learned technical skills in the beginning: how to hold the bough, how to read music from the page. These technical skills, however, were the foundation of knowledge, but not mastery unto itself.
Mastery came when technical skills were married to unfathomable degrees of practice, luck, and passion. No one in their right mind would tell the musical genius to put down the violin for fear of over practicing. No one would tell them that less practice is actually more. And so it is with writing, and singing, and even mathematics. Technical abilities can only take one so far down the road. There is something intangible that is only gleaned from exhaustive repetition.
The new view of medicine is that providers are technicians. More like plumbers. Now, I have no problem with plumbers, but once you learn how to change a toilet or unclog a pipe, there are only so many variations. If a plumber can demonstrate their competency in such fields, there is little need to endure more training. Hence the training to be a plumber, to date, has been less arduous than that of your typical doctor.
The educational model for physicians today is becoming more skills based. We now have teams, checklists, and electronic warnings that allow physicians in training to reach competency quickly. They become facile at entering data and awaiting a clinical guideline to pop up on their computer screen. Care plans are less individual and creative, and more standardized.
If this paradigm becomes reality, who really needs a fourth year of medical school? Or possibly a third?
But, I bet the average patient will not be so happy as these changes take hold.
At one’s most vulnerable moment expecting a great concerto, a virtuoso, how sad to receive a toilet plunging instead.
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