Perspective: After a Century of Criticizing Premedical Education, Are We Missing the Point?

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Ever since Abraham Flexner formalized the idea of premedical education in 1910, medical educators have argued about how best to prepare students for medical school. This back-and-forth about the premedical years has focused almost exclusively on the range and content of the required course work; noticeably absent from the debate is consideration of the ways in which the experience of the premedical years—including the curricular and noncurricular demands placed on students—shape the moral education of the next generation of physicians. The authors review the century-long conversation about premedical education, highlighting the themes of that discussion and the important aspects of being a “premed” that have not been a part of the conversation. From their systematic review of college and university Web sites designed for premedical students and from comments collected from a symposium on the premedical years, the authors describe how life as a premedical student, and not just curricular content, teaches important lessons about what it means to be a professional. The authors also report important disparities in attitudes about premedical education; for example, premedical advisors regard the “sifting process” of premedical education as a “journey of discovery,” whereas students describe their premedical years as a competition. The authors' work suggests a new approach to premedical education, an approach that combines the coursework needed to succeed in medical school with formal opportunities to reflect on both the positive and pernicious effects of the premedical years.

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