Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH

The Medical School of the Future: Transformation in Osteopathic Medical Education


s the 2015 school years kicks off and new and returning osteopathic medical students are settling into their respective routines—a steady and demanding rhythm of attending classes and clinics, studying, and fulfilling the responsibilities of their other work, family, and social commitments—I am reminded not only of the hard work and sacrifice that medical students endure throughout their training, but also of the commitments and tireless efforts of the medical educators, administrators, and staff at the nation’s colleges of osteopathic medicine. It is through their dedication to create the best medical education experience possible for DO students that these individuals are serving as agents of change in what is the beginning of a major evolution in the American medical education system.

The practice of medicine has changed tremendously in the past century, but medical education has been slow to change with it. Many U.S. medical schools have been operating under an educational model established in the early 1900s by Abraham Flexner, focusing primarily on in-class learning during the first half of their undergraduate medical education and more hands-on experience—attending clinics and shadowing physicians—during the second half.

In osteopathic medical education there has always been an underlying pressure and presence of innovation within our medical school and residency training system—from early hands-on clinical education with an emphasis on prevention, to the focus on community-based, primary care clinical training, to the creation of the osteopathic post-graduate training institutions (OPTIs). Since their inception, OPTIs, the community-based clinical education consortium, have served to support pioneering impulses throughout the clinical education portion of undergraduate medical education and into the osteopathic graduate medical education training. These were noteworthy innovations deserving of acknowledgment for their capacity to produce high-quality graduates and physicians.

While the Flexner model and the innovations of the nation’s osteopathic medical schools helped to raise medical education and practice in the United States to the level of excellence it is currently recognized for across the globe, it has become evident that in order to keep up with the rapidly-changing demands of the U.S. health care system, medical schools in this country are, in different ways and at various paces, shifting their focus toward even further innovative training models aimed are preparing the physician of the future.

But what will this physician of the future look like? Aside from having exemplary clinical skills, this doctor will also be adept at working with a team of medical professionals in an interprofessional setting, comfortable with the latest clinical and health systems technology, aware and involved in the legislative issues affecting health care, an excellent communicator, and a life-long learner. This physician will also be able to meet the needs of the U.S. health care system and American patients, which are quickly changing toward patient-centered, preventative, primary care—a core focus of osteopathic medical education. In some ways, AACOM and U.S. osteopathic medical schools are already working to train this physician of the future, recognizing the new and additional competencies that will be needed, including:
  • Developing flexible, competency-based pathways for students
  • Providing interprofessional, team-based experiences to develop these skills for graduates
  • Teaching both clinical and health care delivery skills
  • Providing community-based clinical learning settings
  • Integrating technology into learning and assessment
  • Providing leadership opportunities and training
  • Incorporating advocacy and communications training into curricula
  • Developing competencies to teach students resilience and adaptability
  • Creating opportunities for early-immersion pathways for students to enable easy, and sometimes early, transition from medical school to residency training
  • …and more

In upcoming issues of Inside OME, we will be highlighting current innovative efforts, within individual osteopathic medical schools as well as across the osteopathic medical profession as a whole, to meet the needs of producing the physicians of the future—those with the competencies needed to participate in and provide leadership for the transformation of the U.S. health care system—and to maintain those core qualities and principles that distinguish osteopathic physicians now and into the future.

Inside OME Header
September 2015
Vol. 9, No. 9