This blog is about medical education in the US and around the world. My interest is in education research and the process of medical education.

The lawyers have asked that I add a disclaimer that makes it clear that these are my personal opinions and do not represent any position of any University that I am affiliated with including the American University of the Caribbean, the University of Kansas, the KU School of Medicine, Florida International University, or the FIU School of Medicine. Nor does any of this represent any position of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center or Northeast Georgia Health System.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas gift

On Christmas morning as we were opening presents with our kids and family, I got to thinking about how lucky I am. I really don't know how I got into medical school.

I grew up in a pretty modest home. These days you would have called us poor. At the time I thought we were middle class but, I didn't know that middle class families were not on WIC. But we never went hungry and my mom kept us in clean clothes (though they were rarely new clothes). We lived in several places growing up but my grandparents lived on a farm in rural SW Missouri, so I thought of myself as a country (rural) boy. We didn't have any doctors in my immediate family, although my grandmother was a nurse and my great ,great uncle was a country doc (more about him some other time).

So, how did I get into medical school???

These days my chances would be pretty slim at most medical schools. The vast majority (65%) of our current medical students come from the top quintile of wage-earning families.(1)  From 1997 to 2004, students admitted to medical school with a family income of greater than $100,000 increased over 60%, while those from the middle and lower income quintiles declined. The median income for the parents of a medical student is over $110,000 per year. 59.7% of students' parents make over $100,000. (2)

Many of our students at Kansas come from urban counties. In Kansas that means basically one of five counties/metropolitan areas (KC, Overland Park, Wichita, Topeka, and Lawrence). We have to work very hard to get and keep qualified applicants from small towns and the rural counties. On the 2009 AAMC Matriculant survey, only 2.8% of matriculating students were planning to practice in an area with a population of 2,500 or less.(3)

We have seen an increase in students whose parents are physicians. Some of these are physicians from the community and some are kids of our own faculty. Most medical students' parents have a high level of education. 52% of the fathers of medical students have a graduate degree compared to 12% in the general population. For moms, it is 35% and 10%, respectively. (4)

So what?

Several things in my opinion.
First, as a state school, we have a contract with the state of Kansas. We are the only medical school in Kansas we have to provide doctors for the state. All of the state. Not just the urban/suburban parts of the state.

We also need to produce doctors that look like the population of the state. If all of our students are from the urban counties, they are going to be much more likely to be white or Asian and not underrepresented. If they are all from the highest income brackets, we are neglecting a large part of our population.

And they will be much less likely to practice in the places that we want/need doctors. Rural underserved counties. Urban underserved areas. Primary care practices. Community health centers. Rural health clinics.

Right now we are doing pretty well in this area when you compare us to the rest of the country. The problem is that the rest of the country is doing really badly. So, even though we look good in comparison, we aren't doing that great. A recent analysis done by Fitzhugh Mullan (5),  found that many of the "top" medical schools in the nation did pretty poorly when you measured them on social mission (Vanderbilt #141, Duke #124, Boston U #131, Mayo #103). Social mission is a construct that uses number of primary care physicians produced, graduates practicing in HPSAs, and numbers of underrepresented minorities. KU ranked 5th in the nation on that scale.

We also do pretty good at turning out primary care doctors, at least in Family Medicine. Over the last 10 years (1998-2009 graduating classes), KU and the University of Minnesota were ranked number 1 and 2 when you combine number and percentage of students that graduate and choose a residency in Family Medicine.

But, we have to continue to work hard to maintain what we have. It is a constant struggle to convince people on the admissions committee that we shouldn't just take the students with the highest GPAs. And it is easy for the Dean to say, "we need to raise the MCAT scores of our incoming students". And it is easy to decrease funding for programs that support students from underserved backgrounds.  But those are the battles that have to be fought.  As someone who is really smart told me, "we don't need programs to increase the number of white kids from Johnson County".

(1) Bowman B. personal communciation
(2) Jolly P. Diversity of US Medical Students by Parental Income. AAMC Analysis in Brief. 2008;8(1).
(3) AAMC Matriculating Student Questionnaire (MSQ) 2009
(4) Grbic D, et al. Diversity of US Medical Students by Parental Education.  AAMC Analysis in Brief  2010;9(10).
(5) Mullan F, Chen C, Petterson S, Kolsky G, Spagnola M. The Social Mission of Medical Education: Ranking the Schools. Annals Intern Med  2010;152:804-811.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The clinical enterprise is to a medical school as the athletic department is to an undergraduate university

I love analogies and while no analogy is perfect, I find this one fascinating.  If you are like us, you probably watch a lot of college sports this time of year. I was watching a basketball game the other day (KU vs Arizona) and I was thinking about the athletic department at our school.  Like many large state schools, we have a pretty large budget for the athletic program. (more than $50 million in 2006) (1)  All of that money may translate to some success , at least on the basketball court, not so much on the football field.  A report last year from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics detailed athletic department spending increases at major colleges and universities. Increases to the tune of 11% annually, and this was during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Why do we spend so much money on the athletic department? And what does this have to do with medical education, which after all is what this blog is supposed to be about? It struck me that in a medical school system the clinical enterprise has some similarities to the athletic department at the undergraduate school.

Both the clinical enterprise and the athletic department are askew from the primary mission of the university at large. Each has a significant portion of the budget. Both generate significant revenue. Both attract philanthropy for their own use. World famous specialists and top athletic teams attract media attention. Attention leads to more patients and more fans and more money and higher rankings and goodwill from the local community. The highest paid people are the stars in these areas: the super subspecialists and the coaches for the money-making sports. They are arguably the highest paid because they bring in the most money. And, because of their ability to generate revenue, they seem to have a different set of expectations for their behavior. (2)

But here is where the analogy breaks down. It seems that few undergraduate universities have as part of their mission statement, “to have the best athletic department” or “to generate the most money on athletics.” And if US News and World Report has done a ranking on “most lucrative athletic departments,” I haven’t seen it. On the other hand, medical schools invariably have something about the clinical enterprise in the mission statement. And, that statement is not, “create a clinical enterprise that is sufficient to meet the educational needs of our students while providing excellent patient care.”

Perhaps the most important difference is that while the athletic department has some opportunity to impact the education of students, the clinical enterprise profoundly affects student education. The athletic department probably pulls some philanthropy away from other areas and definitely pulls attention away from other areas. But if the university decides to focus on football instead of swimming, the science majors are probably not affected by that decision. However, if the clinical enterprise focuses on higher revenue specialty practices and decreases lower paying primary care or generalist practices, the medical students are at risk of receiving inadequate or inappropriate medical training. If the clinical enterprise adopts policies that limit medical students' use of the electronic health record or participating in procedures, their education suffers. If the clinical enterprise needs the physicians to make more money by seeing more patients and spending less time teaching students, their education suffers.

Generally, about this time in the argument, someone pipes in with No Money, No Mission. And they go on to describe how the clinical mission funds the other missions of the medical school. Some people believe that the clinical enterprise and the athletic department works hard to make money for the university, so that the university can attend to its other, less interesting mission: education. And perhaps it does work that way in some places. Perhaps, but mostly they fund themselves. They make decisions based on revenue and they keep most of the profit. In fact, an article in USA Today says that for every dollar the university spends on the athletic department, they only realized one dollar in revenue. (3)  Not a great return on the university's investment.  At least the athletic department pretends that they aren’t trying to make money. 

Medical student education at allopathic schools in the United States is clearly in a marriage with the clinical enterprise – sometimes an abusive marriage and maybe sometimes a partnership, but nonetheless a marriage. So what can be done? Perhaps that is a good topic for another blog – what would a counselor say about the marriage of the clinical enterprise and medical education?

(1) King, Jason. "Hawk Market", The Kansas City Star (June 11, 2006), pp. C1