'Competencies,' Not Courses, Should Be Focus of Medical-School Curricula, Report Says

June 04, 2009

Future physicians should be given a clear set of “competencies” to master, rather than a rigid set of courses to take, according to a report released today by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The report, “Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians,” is based on recommendations from a 22-member committee of researchers, physicians, and science educators.

The committee members hope that by focusing on a dynamic set of competencies, rather than specific courses, they will open the door to more innovation in both premedical and medical curricula, and make it easier for premeds to take a variety of nonscience, liberal-arts courses.

The report also recommends that the competencies be periodically reviewed and updated. Medical educators have worried for years that their curricula have not kept up with rapid changes in scientific knowledge.

“Future doctors must be equipped to provide the best and most scientifically sound care for their patients,” said Carol Aschenbrener, executive vice president of the medical-colleges association. “The AAMC hopes this report will be the beginning of a broad dialogue within the undergraduate and medical-education communities to reinvigorate the scientific preparation of physicians.”

The report says that its findings are “based on the premise that the undergraduate years are not and should not be aimed only at students preparing for professional school. Instead, the undergraduate years should be devoted to creative engagement in the elements of a broad, intellectually expansive liberal-arts education.”

The report suggests eight broad scientific competencies that undergraduate premedical students should master before starting medical school, as well as eight competencies relating to the natural sciences that medical students should demonstrate before receiving their medical degrees. The medical-colleges association will consider the report as part of its review of the Medical College Admission Test, which it administers. —Katherine Mangan