SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota educators are discussing whether to shorten medical school from four years to three for students pursuing careers as family doctors, though the state Board of Regents says patient safety is paramount.
The Sanford-University of South Dakota School of Medicine is trying to move more physicians into cities and rural areas across the state. More than half of the doctors are past age 45 in South Dakota — a state experiencing a long decline in the number of young adults who potentially could replace them as they retire. National studies show a shortage of more than 7,000 doctors in rural areas, according to the Argus Leader.
“This is very, very early discussion, something that has come up nationwide with the idea of trying to get more people into the primary care workforce more quickly,” said Dr. Bruce Vogt, chairman of family medicine at the school.
Dr. Susan Anderson, an associate professor, said an accelerated program also would save money for future family doctors who pay about $31,000 annually for tuition and fees in South Dakota.
“It would be three and out,” she said. “You get done faster. You have less tuition. You take away a year of loans.”
Discussion in South Dakota is in the early stages, Vogt said. A change would need the approval of the dean, the faculty, the university and the state Board of Regents.
“Our interest, of course, is that any physician coming out of medical school has the skill and knowledge to be an effective practitioner,” said Regents Executive Director Jack Warner. “We would only consider such a proposal if we could be assured that was the case.”
Any proposal also would need the blessing of the LCME, or Liaison Committee on Medical Education, an agency in Washington, D.C., that accredits the nation’s 141 medical schools and 17 in Canada.
Medical schools have considerable leeway, but whatever format they choose must include 130 weeks of instruction and training, said Dr. Dan Hunt, senior director of accreditation services at LCME. It is possible to compress those weeks over three years, he said — a handful are doing it, including schools in Calgary and at Texas Tech University.
“The thing we would want to make sure of is, are students well prepared?” Vogt said. “They would need to be high achievers and very motivated self-directed learners.”