This article addresses the problems associated with current undergraduate surgical education and discusses the requirements necessary for its improvement during the third and fourth years of medical school. It asserts that, coincident with the emphasis on faculty research and publication and expanded resident patient care duties, teaching, particularly medical student teaching, has assumed a very low priority. Third-year medical students are attached to surgical teams, where their education is haphazard and disorganized. Furthermore, because any teaching that occurs is teacher oriented rather than student centered, knowledge is accumulated passively and is not well retained. Traditional evaluation using shelf multiple choice examinations and ward ratings by residents and faculty may provide inaccurate assessments of the students' performance. The undergraduate surgical education program should be directed by a faculty member who has been grounded in educational techniques and research and supported by a department chairman committed to bettering the program. In the clerkship, medical students should be assigned to faculty rather than to services and should be presented problems that require solution. Students also should be provided with the resources to solve the problems and should be given sufficient time to solve them. Some operating room experience and bedside teaching should occur during the clerkship. A variety of evaluation and testing methods based on the learning objectives of the clerkship should be used. Third-year students should not be promoted until they have demonstrated their acquisition of appropriate knowledge and skills. During the fourth year of medical school, students should be supervised as they repeatedly practice basic skills during mandatory acting internships: history taking, performing physical examinations, acquiring data about the patient, and developing a management plan. When the basic skills are complemented with an adequate knowledge base, the student can be graduated to practice medicine under ever-decreasing supervision during residency.
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