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Medical Education: Shaping the 21st-Century Physician

Doctor showing x-ray results to his patient

Editors’ Note: This post is part of an ongoing blog series on achieving success in medical school through preparation, collaboration and active learning.

by Julia H. Arnsten, M.D., M.P.H.

How should we prepare medical students in a rapidly changing world of technology, healthcare and communications? What skills should a 21st-century physician gain during the years spent in medical school?

It’s a question of grave importance that affects educators, students and, most importantly, patients.

Like many medical schools, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the past has relied heavily on students’ exam performance to assess their readiness to begin practicing medicine. But the world of medicine has changed. It’s
become clear that we need to figure out how to assess student performance in a wide array of skill areas—all of them necessary to produce an effective, modern-day physician.

Two years ago, our dean’s office convened a task force to develop a new set of educational competencies for Einstein medical students. The multidisciplinary team included clinicians and educators from many departments, including biochemistry, family medicine, medicine, ob/gyn, otorhinolaryngology, pediatrics, psychiatry, radiation oncology, rehabilitation medicine and surgery.

From the beginning we were guided by our goal of developing competencies that embody the full complement of skills that a physician needs, while tailoring those competencies to augment Einstein’s strengths as an institution that places strong emphasis on scientific excellence and social justice.

Six months after its formation, the Educational Competency Task Force presented its work to the medical education council, the dean’s office and department chairs, and the revised Einstein educational competencies were
adopted. Integrating traditional and nontraditional pedagogy along with values that are unique to Einstein, the competencies recognize the many roles that physicians play, chief among them healer and scientist. The
competencies also call for students to master the important physician roles of advocate, educator, colleague, role model and lifelong learner.

[Explore Einstein Competencies in Detail. Watch Video]

At the center of this process—from concept to execution—was the patient. Each of the seven competencies acts as an important spoke that helps support the patient at the hub.

The new framework stresses patient individuality; physician-patient partnership; teamwork among physicians and others involved in patient care; and the need to address the health of both individuals and populations—with a critical emphasis on the role communities play in healthcare determinants and care delivery.

To many of us who served on the task force, our efforts to create a set of integrated educational competencies offered a meaningful opportunity to examine our own ideals as physicians and educators. As we did so, we realized that we owe a debt of gratitude to our patients for allowing our students involvement with them to help inform the development
of future physicians.

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