100584149More medical schools are turning to a 3-year solution to hedge against the looming primary care physician (PCP) shortage, offering an accelerated program and major savings to future primary care doctors.

The American Association of Medical College Center for Workforce Studies estimates the country will need 45,000 more PCPs and 46,000 more surgeons and medical specialists within the next decade.

A recent post by our guest blogger, Skeptical Scalpel, questions the benefit of a fourth year in medical school entirely in a related blog, Law School Revamps Final Year, Will Med Schools Follow?

One of the roadblocks to careers in primary care is a skyrocketing medical education debt, followed by inferior pay.

Georgia’s Mercer University School of Medicine launched an accredited 3-year accelerated program for students committed to family medicine in hopes of addressing these deterrents. Mercer, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) and Texas Tech all used similar strategies to consolidate their curricula, cutting most of the fourth year rotations. Supporters of the 3-year program also propose teaching core science courses during undergraduate years.

Robert Pallay, residency director and chair of family medicine at Mercer notes the financial rewards of a condense schedule. He says students “pay one year less of tuition, which saves $40,000 to $50,000,” he says. “They get out a year earlier, so rather than making $50,000 as a resident, they [may] end up earning $200,000-plus as a regular doctor.”

Gaining traction, the 3-year primary care programs are also being planned for East Tennessee, Indian, University of Wisconsin, East Carolina, and Kentucky.

Arguments against it? There are plenty. Some opponents to the idea argue that medicine is more complicated than it has ever been, which requires increased knowledge and experience. Professionally, some feel a 3-year program could put students at a disadvantage when competing in the residency match because programs “not directly linked with three-year medical schools may not consider three-year students equally prepared and experienced, potentially putting the student at a competitive disadvantage in the match with those from four-year schools.”

Our nation needs more doctors—especially PCPs. Is this a solution?