Do students in accelerated baccalaureate-MD programs perform any better or worse than their peers in traditional med ed programs? A new study of 2,583 students in Academic Medicine provides an answer and helps illuminate an important innovation in medical education.

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“Over one-third of U.S. medical schools offer combined baccalaureate-MD degree programs ...[yet] data comparing educational outcomes of these programs with those of conventional pathways are limited,” according to authors of the study.  

To address this data shortage, researchers reviewed demographic characteristics and metrics on the academic performance of 2,583 students entering Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine from 1999 to 2013, comparing students in the school’s Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME), an accelerated seven-year program, to traditional non-HPME students.

Students in the HPME program typically attend undergraduate college for three years before fully matriculating into Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Unlike their traditional med school peers, accelerated students are not required to sit for the MCAT. Once they matriculate into medical school, HPME students fully integrate into their medical class and complete the same four-year requirements for medical school as their peers.

Study authors compared HPME to traditional non-HPME students across three academic measures, including Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) selection, student quintile rankings from the Medical Student Performance Evaluation and United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 and Step 2 scores.

Despite shortening the length of their undergraduate education, students in Northwestern’s HPME program demonstrated similar rates of academic performance as their non-accelerated peers. Both student groups had comparable success rates for:

  • Completing an MD degree: 97.2 percent of accelerated students completed their MD degree, compared to 95.8 percent of non-accelerated students.
  • Student quintile rankings: Quintile performance percentages for accelerated and non-accelerated students were not significantly different.
  • AOA selection: 16.9 percent of accelerated students were selected to the national honor society, just 0.2 percent higher than the selection rate for non-accelerated students.
  • USMLE scores: Accelerated students scored an average of 231.7 and 236.8 on their USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 exams, while non-accelerated students scored an average of 233.0 and 237.7, respectively.

“These findings can contribute to current discussions about the appropriateness and content of typical medical school selection criteria and premedical education,” authors of the study wrote, noting that HPME students in the study did not have to sit for the MCAT, and the GPA threshold required to stay in the accelerated program was considerably lower than the typical GPA requirements for admission to competitive medical schools.

Yet, despite having more flexible admissions standards, accelerated students performed just as well as their non-accelerated peers, suggesting that a reevaluation of medical student selection criteria may benefit schools looking to build a diverse base of qualified physician leaders.

“The need for physicians who are compassionate, team-oriented lifelong learners may not be best supported by a premedical experience that emphasizes competitiveness for high GPA and top MCAT scores,” the study said.

The authors also noted that their findings may help “inform recent discussions and initiatives aimed at accelerating the path to the MD degree.”

Shifting from time to competency-based education remains an evolving issue in medical education as schools explore new ways to enhance physician training. Many educators argue that competency-based education redesign allows students to learn new information based on their own depth of knowledge, skills and assessments.

Several schools participating in the AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative are investigating competency-based education models to assess students’ progress and readiness for residency. For instance, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s Curriculum 2.0 is based on competency assessment. Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine is implementing a learner-centered, competency-based curriculum that enables students to advance through individualized learning plans as they achieve key milestones tracked by a personal portfolio. University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor recently has shifted its curriculum from traditional time-based models to new ones that focus on building student leaders and competency in health care delivery science.

Since 2013 the AMA has been working with 11 leading medical schools as part of its Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative, which provided $1 million grants to each school to help fund novel programs that bridge the gap between how physicians currently are trained and the future needs of our health care system. These 11 schools, the founding members of the Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, are completely reshaping the way future physicians are trained—and now they’re ready to expand.

The AMA invites additional schools to apply to join the consortium and collaborate on transformative projects that will prepare physicians in training to thrive in complex health care systems.

Up to 20 schools each will receive a grant award of $75,000 disbursed over the course of three years so they too can become an integral part of this community of innovation. To apply, submit a proposal by Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. Eastern time. Grants start Jan. 1, 2016. Be sure to:

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