DOI: 10.1111/jep.13916 ISSN:

Modern medical schools curricula: Necessary innovations and priorities for change

Manuel Augusto Cardoso de Oliveira, Andrew Miles, Jonathan Elliott Asbridge
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy


Medical schools' curricula have expanded over the decades to incorporate important new medical breakthroughs and discoveries. Their current focus and overall structures remain, however, stubbornly captive of early 20th‐century thinking, with changes having been undertaken in a piecemeal fashion. Indeed, since the notable Flexner reform in 1910, medical schools' study plans have suffered successive and typically always partial adjustments which have failed to keep up with scientific, technological and sociological change. This difficulty may be attributable to the well‐known conservatism of medical schools, where updating study plans is a process that invariably encounters numerous barriers to change. These observations were afforded detailed attention some 15 years ago when de Oliveira wrote: ‘it is now perfectly demonstrated that public medical schools have not been able to adapt their operation in depth and in due time to the new demands of teaching dictated by an explosive scientific and technological development’. Recent advances in communication and information technologies, as well as the introduction of new pedagogical techniques, have the potential to bring significant benefits to medical practice and healthcare systems, but these have not in the main become properly taught and utilized. The proposition that healthcare is evolving from reactive disease care to care that is predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory was initially regarded as highly speculative, yet systems approaches to biology and medicine are now beginning to provide experience of both health and disease at the molecular, cellular and organ levels. Medicine is a broad scientific field. In contrast to the 19th century, current medical ‘sectarianism’ is a positive by‐product of rapid and gratifying medical progress, and the multiplicity of new models means that the lines of evidence legitimately bearing on practice and health policymaking are already highly diverse and likely to become ever more variegated over time. Put simply, most sound decisions, by definition, will be evidence‐informed and not evidence‐based, where divergence may be as informative as convergence. Here, the most enduring lesson of history is, perhaps, that clinical medicine is constantly rediscovering its humanistic core. Complexities create opportunities for innovation. In innovative environments, high‐performing organizations are finding ways to create a culture that supports a diverse workforce preparing to deliver different models of care, with direct implications for excellence of patient experience and strong repercussions for medical education. The COVID‐19 crisis saw major increases in the use of telemedicine, virtual office visits and other forms of online contact, and these are likely to increase considerably. This particular transformation will not be easy or comfortable to make. But reconfiguration of medical education seems inevitable, fuelled by online educational technology and the need to transform clinical training to more outpatient settings with promotion based on competency and person‐centeredness, not simply time. As we prepare to enter 2024, this is an exciting time to be working in healthcare. We have more evidence than ever about how to provide high quality, person‐centered care, and to keep patients safe. Shame on us if there is any hesitation about applying this knowledge to make the healthcare experience better for patients and providers. Embracing change and making continuous improvements are essential and urgent priorities for medicine and healthcare and, as we describe in the current article, will become more and more indispensably important in our rapidly changing world.

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