I have been spending time at an academic medical center lately and I’m noticing some obvious flaws in our method of shaping the doctors of the future.
When I went to medical school I was trained by physicians who were eminent in their areas of specialty and also did some research. They taught in classrooms and as attending physicians when we were working on the wards as doctors in training. I realize now that the clinical attendings who helped us manage our general medical patients actually specialized in some more narrow aspect of medicine, but were smart enough to be able to manage a diverse array of medical problems. I thought they were all amazing and never even entertained the possibility that their knowledge was less than exhaustive. I was also taught by the interns and residents who were themselves in training, though with an MD after their names. I thought that they were both wise and skillful. Perhaps they were. I will never find out now.
Watching the training of medical students this last month, I am appreciative of the skills and scholarship of many of their teaching attendings, but also am noticing that there is a difference between a physician who has spent his or her time entirely at an academic medical institution and a good community physician. The academic physician is nearly forced by the proximity of educational lectures and the demands of teaching to keep current on the recommended treatments for various diseases. They also rely heavily on the expertise of consultants in everything from dermatology to cardiology and gynecology, so don’t necessarily have a good grounding in treating a whole person in the community and circumstances in which that person finds himself. In practice, it would not have been unusual for me to treat someone for their depression, congestive heart failure, obesity, cough and the rash on their legs. In fact, all of these problems were probably connected and required an approach that recognized the other issues.