The author posits that if Abraham Flexner could be brought back to write a report to address the same question that his 1910 report answered—How are doctors being prepared for practice?—he would not focus on the state of medical students' education, because today's medical students no longer enter practice on graduation from medical school. Instead, he would ask how the country's graduate medical education (GME) system is preparing residents for clinical practice. Such a report is needed because (as concluded by a variety of sources, including recent reports by the Institute of Medicine) GME training must be changed as part of the effort to improve medical care quality. Despite this finding, professional organizations that regulate how GME is designed and conducted have been unwilling to make substantive changes in the ways residents are being prepared for practice. The author reviews the reasons for this, emphasizes the need for a new Flexner-type report to make the public aware of the training deficiencies so the public could exert pressure on government officials to take action, describes groups that have already recognized the problem and proposed solutions (such as having individual programs held accountable for their residents' performance in practice), and makes recommendations, such as (1) having the Medicare program, the single largest payer of GME costs, require certain needed reforms in residents' training, and (2) modernizing state laws so that residents completing training would have to demonstrate that they are adequately prepared to enter practice before being granted licenses.
Dr. Whitcomb is professorial lecturer in health policy, School of Public Health, George Washington University, Washington, DC.
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