ChangeMedEd Initiative

Precision education: What it is and how it's advancing med ed


Timothy M. Smith

Contributing News Writer

When then-President Obama announced in 2015 a research initiative with the National Institutes of Health to accelerate progress in precision medicine, few may have grasped how the notion of tailoring medical care to the specific characteristics of individual patients could also be applied to medical education.

But nine years on, the academic community is moving toward the concept of precision education—a personalized approach to medical students and physicians as they progress along the educational continuum and through their professional lives—and working to transform it from a nascent vision to a working model. 

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Proof of its potential to reshape medical education is evident in an upcoming supplement in the most influential journal in academic medicine. “The Next Era of Assessment: Advancing Precision Education for Learners to Ensure High-Quality, Equitable Care for Patients,” will be published in Academic Medicine this spring.

“Despite rigorous evaluation and accreditation processes, current educational practices across the continuum may fail to apply learning science to improve learning outcomes, leave learners vulnerable to gaps in understanding of their own educational needs, and neglect the social elements of learning, thereby eroding curiosity and joy within the physician,” says an AMA issue brief, “Precision Education: The Future of Lifelong Learning in Medicine,” (PDF) that was published on the AMA website.

What medical students and physicians need are personalized approaches to learning, the issue brief notes.

“Precision education can be described as the tailoring of education to the specific characteristics of the individual learner,” it says. “This echoes the earlier concept of precision medicine, which denotes prevention and treatment strategies that take individual patient variability into account.”

Another way of describing it is delivering the right education to the right learner at the right time.

“Much like how clinical medicine integrates precision medicine approaches, where appropriate, to improve the diagnostic process and personalize patient care, so too should academic medicine integrate precision education to personalize the learning and training of physicians to improve patient care,” the issue brief says.

One real-life example is Reconnect, an AMA pilot project that uses a supportive augmented intelligence (AI) algorithm within the EHR to provide anticipatory learning resources based on upcoming patient visits. Another is New York University Grossman School of Medicine’s everyday use of ChatGPT, highlighted in the plenary session of the most recent ChangeMedEd® conference, which is available to view on the AMA Ed Hub™.

“Greater precision offers an opportunity to elevate equity, diversity and belonging by better understanding the experiences and assets, as well as ongoing developmental needs, of individuals,” the issue brief says. “Ongoing efforts are needed to create a shared mental model and identify best practices to support precision education.”

The Academic Medicine supplement will feature more than a dozen other articles on precision education, including:

In addition to precision education, The AMA has placed a new level of strategic focus on three other high-priority areas in medical education: competency-based medical education, transitions across the continuum, and equity, diversity and belonging.