In October, the journal Academic Medicine published a letter to the editor by members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Education and Professional Development Committee. The letter is reprinted below with permission from the original publisher.
Desperately seeking Flexner: time to reemphasize
By Peter J. Kennelly, Judith S. Bond, Bettie Sue Masters, Edward A. Dennis, Charles Brenner and Daniel M. Raben
basic science in medical education
The medical education community is currently engaged in an intensive review and revision of current models for physician training. New medical school curricula feature a substantially increased focus on communications, administrative, and teamwork skills designed to enable tomorrow’s doctors to interact more effectively with patients and seamlessly collaborate within today’s evolving care delivery structure.
These curriculum revisions are occurring as a new age dawns in medicine. Genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics will enable physicians to examine patients with a comprehensiveness unimagined by their forebears. Access to personalized data for each patient will yield more accurate diagnoses and the selection of optimized treatments. The ability to directly observe subtle perturbations in metabolism and gene expression will transform our capacity for the early detection and treatment of cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertension, and Alzheimer’s, among others.
To leverage these revolutionary developments, future physicians will require the type of firm grounding in basic sciences recommended by Flexner in 1910. Paradoxically, recently many medical schools have substantially reduced basic science education. Although acceleration of the preclinical curriculum has the obvious benefit of giving students more time to develop clinical skills, we believe that this approach will have the unintended consequence of preventing the majority of future physicians from understanding the genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic data that patients can now obtain. In additional to training in clinical and interpersonal skills, we urge our colleagues to reemphasize basic science in the preclinical years. This will allow us to train individuals who will be able to practice molecular medicine and collaborate with basic research scientists to leverage new information and technologies to advance biomedical knowledge and practice.