How best to nurture the connection between physician and real patient? Traditionally, third-year students have spent monthlong rotations in a series of specialty areas. Instead of these "block rotations," students in the Harvard Medical School Cambridge Integrated Clerkship follow a panel of patients over a six-month period, from diagnosis through hospitalization to discharge and even home visits. The goal: to see the patient not as a disease but as a person.
Bedside manner is getting more emphasis, too. In a course at Stanford, one exercise has students helping horses overcome their fear in scary situations like walking past shiny balloons. That theoretically hones students' ability to pick up on signs of fear in their human patients and show patience and compassion, says Beverley Kane, who runs the course. "Unlike our patients, horses will 'tell' us when we have touched them too roughly."
The imperative to change medical training is becoming ever more urgent as the pace of medical discoveries proceeds at an astonishing rate.
Perhaps no breakthrough to date promises to impact medicine's future so profoundly as the sequencing of the human genome completed in 2003. Doctors have already begun practicing medicine differently in some instances, using this tool to personalize care by screening patients for select mutations that put them at greater risk for disease and make them more likely to respond to drugs for cancer and other conditions.
[Discover other technologies changing medical education.]
The latest on genomics is taught, of course — at Mount Sinai and Stanford, students actually analyze aspects of their own genome. But the point is the need for schools to address the reality that what future physicians learn about cutting-edge medicine is apt to be outdated by the time they finish their residencies.
"One thing that will be critical for people coming out of med school in the future is the ability to meaningfully understand 'what don't I know and how can I learn it,'" says Lindsey Henson, vice dean for medical education and student affairs at Florida Atlantic University's medical school. The school uses "problem-based learning," in which small groups of students grapple with difficult patient cases in their first two years, with a faculty member standing by to help them understand that "you have to figure out what you need to know," she says.
Despite the pockets of innovation, medical schools as a whole still have a way to go to be in step with the trends and technology transforming medicine, argue observers like Eric Topol, chief academic officer of the Scripps Health hospital and clinic system in San Diego and author of "The Creative Destruction of Medicine." But change is clearly coming, he says. "It's inevitable."
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News Best Graduate Schools 2014 guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings, and data.