A Guide to Accelerated, 3-Year Medical Schools

Aspiring doctors who are highly qualified for medical school admission and have earned stellar grades in premed classes may want to consider earning their medical degree in three years rather than four, allowing them to save a year of tuition, fees and living expenses.

Over the past decade, an increasing number of med schools have launched accelerated programs that last roughly three years. The programs, according to their leaders, are designed for driven, talented and mature students who have defined career goals and want to train as cheaply and quickly as possible.

“A student who comes in saying they know they want to be a doctor but they don’t know what kind of doctor probably should take that four-year track, so they have more time to explore,” says Dr. Shou Ling Leong, assistant dean for pathways innovation at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.

Accelerated medical school programs tend to appeal to future physicians who are older than the norm among med students, and those for whom medicine would be a second career, according to leaders of such programs.

[Read: What to Know About Baccalaureate-M.D. Programs.]

“They’ve had more life experiences, they’ve done more shadowing, they’ve done more volunteering in those settings and can say pretty definitively that’s what they want to do,” says Betsy Jones, co-director of the family medicine accelerated track at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. “But it’s also a shortened time to start your career, so if you are somebody who is already pushing 40 or pushing 50 and you can see the trajectory of that career, you can start more quickly with less debt.”

Universities With 3-Year Medical Schools

About 30 schools are members of the Consortium of Accelerated Medical Pathway Programs, or CAMPP. These academic institutions are scattered across the U.S. and Canada in rural and urban areas. Notable examples include:

McMaster University Medical School in Ontario, Canada, which has offered an accelerated medical degree since 1969. It is often described as a role model for this form of education by med school faculty elsewhere.

Medical College of Wisconsin‘s Green Bay and Central Wisconsin campuses.

— New York University’s Manhattan-based Grossman School of Medicine and its Long Island School of Medicine.

— Penn State University College of Medicine.

— Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

Eight schools were founding members of CAMPP in 2015, and that number continues to grow, the group’s leaders say. According to the board of directors, more schools are looking to reduce the overall cost of medical schooling, minimize student debt burdens and give future doctors the flexibility to choose less lucrative medical specialties, including primary care specialties like family medicine.

Universities may also be considering adding three-year programs to address doctor shortages in certain regions and medical specialties, and to increase the number of physicians overall as demand for health care services rises, a factor that is especially pertinent at public academic institutions based in medically underserved areas.

How 3-Year Medical Schools Differ from 4-Year Schools

The coursework in three-year medical programs is somewhat different than that in four-year programs.

A three-year medical degree program typically focuses on a particular area of medicine and includes fewer elective rotations to help reduce the risk of student burnout. However, accelerated programs include the same basic lessons in anatomy and other essential subjects as standard programs.

[Read: What a First-Year Medical School Student Can Expect.]

Such programs move faster than the already quick speed of a standard medical curriculum. The course schedule for three-year programs at allopathic and osteopathic med schools is so demanding that students will have less free time to participate in extracurricular activities than their peers in four-year med programs. Moreover, their summer and winter breaks are likely to be shorter than those of their four-year counterparts.

However, three-year med programs differ, since each is designed to serve a specific mission. For instance, an accelerated med program for future orthopedic surgeons will differ dramatically from one tailored to rural primary care physicians, so it’s important for future doctors on the fast track to compare their options, experts say.

Premeds shouldn’t assume that three-year med schools won’t prepare them adequately for residency or that there is crucial information omitted from these programs, says Dr. John R. Raymond Sr., president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“These accelerated curricula are not medical school lite,” says Raymond, who earned his medical degree in three years. “The students sacrifice a lot of vacation time, their experience is compressed but not diluted in any way, shape or form, and it takes an exceptionally motivated and organized student to go through the rigors of an accelerated program.”

[Read: How Hard Is Medical School and What Is the Medical School Curriculum?]

Some accelerated programs automatically grant entry into a particular residency program after their three years of coursework, though students may be able to opt out if it’s not a good fit. This guarantee of admission into residency can help students avoid the competitive residency match process that typically occurs during the final year of med school.

Because of this unique feature, admissions decisions for the three-year divisions of med schools are often made by a university’s residency directors within whatever medical specialty the program focuses on.

Students typically apply to the three-year medical program at a university after they have already been accepted as a medical student. Some universities allow med students to switch from the four-year track to the three-year track after they have started med school, once they have gained familiarity with the various medical specialties and feel comfortable committing to a particular field.

“We realized that we could individualize education in making it a three-year program, a traditional four-year program or a five-year program where we added on a dual degree,” says Dr. Joan Cangiarella, chair of CAMPP’s board of directors and associate dean of education, faculty and academic affairs at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

At NYU, a med student can pursue a three-year M.D. degree regardless of what kind of doctor they want to be, Cangiarella says. “It’s the residency that’s accepting them, so they have to be pretty good at convincing residency programs that they already have the knowledge, they understand the specialty and they have the reasons behind why they want to go into that specialty.”

Searching for a medical school? Get our complete rankingsof Best Medical Schools.

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A Guide to Accelerated, 3-Year Medical Schools originally appeared on usnews.com

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