Science for Physicians

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Science  24 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5999, pp. 1573
DOI: 10.1126/science.1197542

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Tension over the place of the basic sciences has been a hallmark of medical education in the United States for more than 100 years. In 1910, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching issued Medical Education in the United States and Canada. Known as the Flexner report, it recommended devoting the first 2 of the 4 years of medical school to teaching the fundamentals of disciplines such as anatomy, chemistry, physiology, and pathology. This report served as the foundation for important improvements in medical education that lasted until the 1970s. Since then, U.S. medical schools have built on this foundation, with curricula in years 1 and 2 that increasingly aim to better integrate the science that underlies medicine with clinical practice. This path has proven successful, but there remains a lack of consensus on how much exposure to the basic sciences physicians in training need, with some even arguing that a background in science is not needed at all. For this and other reasons, my colleagues and I have recently completed an intensive 4-year study of U.S. medical education. We conclude that science will be critical for the future physician and that preparing physicians to incorporate science and scientific advances over their careers should be a central goal of medical education at all levels.