Scientific competencies for med students defined

Broad scientific knowledge is key to a redesign of premed and medical school curricula, a report says.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted June 24, 2009

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A new report identifies eight scientific competencies as being important for medical school students and undergraduates thinking of pursuing medical careers. It recommends that the competencies, rather than specific courses, be incorporated into redesigned premedical and medical school curricula.

The intent is to encourage innovations that help future physicians keep pace with the evolving science of medicine, according to the report.

"We know that scientific knowledge is emerging at such a rapid pace that you can teach people all of the current facts in medical school, but by the time they finish their residency, a lot of that is out of date," said Carol Aschenbrener, MD, executive vice president of the Assn. of American Medical Colleges. "What we need to do instead is to prepare them to be skilled learners in science as they go through their professional life."

For example, the first competency covers the application of knowledge of molecular, biochemical and other mechanisms of the human body to the prevention, diagnosis and management of disease. Another competency covers a comprehensive review of the Medical College Admission Test.

Dr. Aschenbrener served on the 22-member committee that developed the report. The panel of physicians, researchers and science educators was assembled in 2007 by the AAMC and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a nonprofit research organization headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md. Its report, "Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians," was released June 4 (link).

The study provides 11 principles to guide the formulation of new curricula. Among them: "The practice of medicine requires grounding in scientific principles and knowledge, as well as understanding how current medical knowledge is scientifically justified, and how that knowledge evolves."

The report's findings will be considered with other initiatives during the AAMC's comprehensive review of the Medical College Admissions Test, which is expected to be completed by 2012. A separate report on the behavioral and social science competencies for future physicians is expected in late 2010.

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