A debate over the length of medical education

22 May 2012

'Does it take too long to become a doctor?' is the question asked of several medical professionals, including two of the University of Sydney's medical academics, by the Medical Journal of Australia this week.

According to the MJA article, training times for general practitioners have progressively lengthened over recent decades. To become a general practitioner in the 1960s took a minimum of seven years from high school. Now it takes a minimum of 10 years.

Professor David Celermajer, Scandrett Professor of Cardiology, Sydney Medical School, believes the length of medical training is excessive and does a disservice to both the community and doctors.

"I think the community would be better served if doctors were fully autonomous as GPs or specialists in their late 20s or early 30s.

"There are two reasons for that. The first is the earlier someone is able to do a fully autonomous role in medicine, the more years of service the community gets from them.

"Secondly, from the doctor's point of view, I think we all really train for the day when we can help people in an independent way. Plus, I think most doctors understand that they come out with a debt to the community and they'd like to pay that back as soon as they can and for as long as they can."

Professor Celermajer goes on, later in the article, to describe his latest dinner-party hypothetical which is "to ask colleagues how long they believe it should really take to train a doctor in their field."

"If you gave me a really bright 18-year-old and they followed me every day in an apprenticeship system, how long would it take me to make a good cardiologist out of them? I truly think the answer's about five years. Now that's radical, currently that process would take nearly 20 years but I'm putting that out there."

Associate Professor Christine Jorm, coordinator of the Personal and Professional Development Theme at Sydney Medical School, says that although there has been a shift towards more flexible arrangements for medical training, it's not always ideal.

"There is an emphasis on family-friendly hours, but the smarter emphasis would be on getting doctors through their training faster and younger."

The MJA article cites figures projecting an increase in medical graduates from 2733 in 2010 to 3970 in 2016.

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