In this issue of Academic Medicine, Wolf et al explore the purposes and value of the senior year of medical school as viewed by graduating students at their institution. Using data from student focus groups and questionnaires, they report that students all found there to be significant value in but identified different purposes for the fourth year. The authors of this commentary believe that study adds to the discussion of fourth-year curriculum reform an important voice that has been lacking—that of students.
Previous articles focusing on the perceived lack of clarity of educational purpose in the senior year curriculum have reflected a faculty perspective and have led some to call for increasing the structure of, decreasing the elective time in, or even completely eliminating the fourth year. In this commentary, the authors ask for a pause in this debate to consider the implications of the student perspective as well as important trends in the medical education continuum that affect the senior student (e.g., milestones that will set new expectations for first-year residents, increasing pressure associated with matching to a residency). They propose that providing students with time for career exploration and for focusing on areas of interest would allow them to individualize their preparation for residency and to be more sure of their career choices. They share the University of Washington School of Medicine’s planned new fourth-year approach as an example of a flexible, individualized senior year curriculum.