Texas Tech School of Medicine to Start Three-year M.D. Program for Family Medicine

Innovative Model Promises Benefits for Workforce, Student Debt, Says AAFP Board Chair

April 08, 2010 03:25 pm Barbara Bein

The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, or TTUHSC, School of Medicine in Lubbock has announced that its newly approved Family Medicine Accelerated Track, or FMAT, program will allow students who are committed to primary care to complete their education in three years and at half the cost of the standard four-year program.

According to a March 23 TTUHSC news release(www.ttuhsc.edu), the FMAT program was approved by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, or LCME, the national accrediting authority for medical education programs leading to the M.D. degree. The first students in the FMAT program will be recruited from this fall's incoming class.

"This is a program of national importance as we work to ensure that all Americans will have access to a primary care physician," said Steven Berk, M.D., dean of the TTUHSC School of Medicine, in the news release. "Texas Tech is committed to taking the first steps in changing how medical schools attract and educate future family medicine doctors."

AAFP Board Chair Ted Epperly, M.D., of Boise, Idaho, told AAFP News Now that the FMAT program is an innovative model that compresses four years of medical school into three, making it "more effective and efficient."

"It will accelerate workforce production and lessen medical school debt at the same time and without affecting the quality of the training," he said.

Logistics of the FMAT Program

According to AAFP member Michael Ragain, M.D., Braddock Chair of the TTUHSC Department of Family and Community Medicine, at the midpoint of the 2010-11 medical school year, between 10 and 12 top-notch students out of a class of 140 will be recruited for the FMAT program. The track will launch officially in July 2011.

During the coming months, the school will begin recruiting faculty -- chiefly family physicians -- to lead the curriculum. The standard four-year curriculum will be condensed into three years by eliminating a summer break and starting a longitudinal family medicine clerkship in the second year, thereby freeing up time so students can complete required rotations by the end of the third year.

Instead of 160 weeks of instruction with breaks, the curriculum will encompass 151 weeks of instruction with limited interruption, Ragain said.

Students selected for the track will receive a one-year scholarship, which, coupled with the elimination of the fourth year, results in a medical education that costs half as much as the traditional four-year program, said Ragain. And students can enter a family medicine residency and start earning a salary a year earlier.

Workforce and Debt Relief

These incentives are designed to attract more medical students into family medicine at a time when many choose higher-paying subspecialties because of concerns about medical school debt.

"We wanted to improve the recruitment of U.S. medical students into family medicine," Ragain said. "This is one of the answers to help fill the shortage of family physicians."

Texas AFP EVP Tom Banning said the shorter program with the same educational requirements and rigor is a step in the right direction toward recruiting more students into family medicine. He said the response he's received from students has been "pretty positive."

"I think any innovative pilot that does not decrease the learning experience is a good thing to examine," said Banning. "The benefits are obvious: By taking a year off of time spent in medical school, you can reduce medical school debt load while still maintaining the education requirements."

The TTUHSC School of Medicine's FMAT program comes at a time when many health policy leaders are focusing on the need for more family physicians in the United States and on ways to attract more students into primary care careers.

The AAFP's 2006 Workforce Report projected a shortage of 39,000 family physicians by 2020. In its new Workforce Reform policy, the Academy recommends that medical schools develop admissions policies that serve to recruit students most likely to pursue careers in primary care.