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UT pilot program could mean seven-year medical degrees across Texas

The University of Texas system is developing a pilot program that would allow students to graduate a year earlier, condensing undergraduate education and medical school courses.

The push for a more efficient degree plan comes in the midst of controversy over efficiency-based higher education reforms backed by Gov. Rick Perry and the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. Those include calling for a $10,000 four-year degree plan and large enrollment increases at UT.

However, the medical school plan is part of a nationwide trend, the Chronicle reported, and there were no indications that TPPF-backed reforms are related to the new program.

According to a report by the Houston Chronicle, the program will allow students in Houston, Galveston and throughout the entire UT System to begin college in fall 2013 and graduate from medical school in spring 2020. This would shave off an additional year of study.

“Medical education takes too long, costs too much and it’s redundant,” said Dr. Kenneth Shine, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs told the Houston Chronicle. “Shortening the time to degree will also increase overall throughput of students.” A shortage of doctors nationwide will leave the U.S. in need of 150,000 new doctors, the Chronicle said.

According to the Chronicle, Dr. John Prescott, Association of American Medical Colleges chief academic officer, “praises the reform efforts but also warns that they must instill in the shortened span key doctor traits: competence, professionalism, judgment and maturity in decision making and patient interactions.”*

At UT Austin, 60 freshmen in the program each year will finish their undergraduate degree in the three years, then transfer to either UT Southwestern or the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

The partnership includes the nine universities and four medical schools in the system. At UT-Dallas and UT-Southwestern, students may spend two fewer years in medical school.

Students will probably have to earn college credit in high school to qualify for the program, according to UT officials. Duplication in science pre-med classes and college classes would also be eliminated, as would classes that medical school professors say are not relevant to the 21st century.

Baylor College of Medicine offered a fast track to a medical school degree in the 1980s and 1990s, but students found condensing the classes was too difficult, Baylor officials said. But Baylor also is considering a similar program and discussing forming a partnership with Rice and the University of Houston for a seven-year medical degree.

UT regents have set aside UT $4 million for the pilot program.

*** CORRECTION: **This article originally paraphrased the Chronicle’s reporting in a way that inaccurately characterized the views of Dr. John Prescott. This article also misstated the name of the Association of American Medical Colleges. We regret the errors.

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