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Penn State College of Medicine accelerated programs are time-saving, cost-reducing

As 2019 came to an end, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) selected its top 10 news stories of the year. Coming in at number five was this story on the pros and cons of an emerging national trend in medical education – three-year medical school programs. These programs allow students to focus on their intended specialty earlier in their training and to start residency a year sooner.

In 2015, Penn State College of Medicine joined seven other schools in forming the Consortium of Accelerated Medical Pathway Programs, which now comprises 16 member schools. The article written by the AAMC cited reduced student debt and streamlined training to address the physician shortage as benefits to these accelerated pathways.

Students and program directors noted in the article that the innovation of accelerated programs allows them to have unique experiences that students in traditional programs may not get. Dr. Sarah Stovar, a class of 2019 graduate of the family medicine accelerated pathway at the College of Medicine, described an experience she had with a breast cancer patient. She accompanied the woman from when she first checked in for surgery until she went home and then also to numerous other appointments.

“I am amazed by the unexpected and truly meaningful relationship that we’ve developed,” Stovar said. “That would not have been possible if I was doing a standard schedule like my four-year peers.”

Some leaders in medical education worry students in three-year programs may experience more burnout, but Dr. Shou Ling Leong, assistant dean for pathways innovation and director of the longitudinal and accelerated programs at the College of Medicine, said that preliminary research suggests otherwise. She and colleagues analyzed the AAMC Graduation Questionnaire (GQ) from a cohort of graduates from accelerated pathways in 2017 and 2018. The GQ data demonstrated that the graduates were as satisfied with the quality of education and as prepared for residency as their peers in the four-year curriculum. Burnout scores appeared equivalent among graduates of accelerated and non-accelerated programs. Leong noted that accelerated programs offer students additional mentoring and support, which may contribute to this trend. Accelerated programs were also successful in lowering student debt.

Leong says that accelerated programs could be the innovation in medical education that could address the shortage of physicians, especially in primary care.

As accelerated programs gain momentum across the country, philanthropic support for the programs at the College of Medicine continues. An anonymous donor recently gave $500,000 to the 3+ Family Medicine Accelerated Pathway. This gift and another for $50,000 were matched by the Department of Family and Community Medicine. Thanks to the generosity of donors, the family medicine accelerated pathway will now have the ability to award a total of almost $50,000 in scholarship support to its students. Donors have also ensured $9,000 in annual scholarship support to students in the 3+7 neurosurgery pathway.

Read more about accelerated pathways at the College of Medicine here.

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