First Three-Year Medical Degree a Success

Successful program helping expand the primary care physician workforce

In 2010, a new three-year medical degree program that would provide more primary care physicians received national coverage. The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Medicine created the first three-year medical degree approved by the nationally recognized accrediting authority for medical education. The Family Medicine Accelerated Track (FMAT) program allows primary care students at the TTUHSC School of Medicine to complete their degree in three years at about half of the cost of the standard four-year program. This month, the first FMAT class will complete family medicine residency training and begin their careers as practicing physicians.


“The TTUHSC School of Medicine’s early adoption of an accelerated pathway has opened a new road for the institution as a leader in curricular innovation that will be increasingly competency-based,” said Steven Berk, M.D., TTUHSC executive vice president, provost and dean of the School of Medicine. “The road ahead for medical education is likely to be linked less to time than to demonstrating proficiency in communicating with and caring for patients, and FMAT is one vehicle on that road.”


Berk said with the baby boomer generation growing older and the increased demand for primary care with the federal health care law, this program has addressed the need for more family medicine doctors.


“This is a program of national importance as we work to ensure that all Americans will have access to a primary care physician,” Berk said. “We committed to taking the first steps in changing how medical schools attract and educate future family medicine doctors. This program demonstrates that our School of Medicine is contributing to health care education nationally as well as locally.”


According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), since 1997, U.S. medical school graduate matches in family medicine and general internal medicine programs have fallen by nearly 50 percent. A 2006 AAFP Workforce Study estimated that the U.S. would need approximately 39,000 more family physicians by 2020.


Betsy Goebel Jones, Ed.D., professor and chair of the Department of Medical Education and professor of family and community medicine at TTUHSC School of Medicine, said other universities, many of which have started similar programs, have closely watched the program.


“The visibility of the program has raised the status of primary care across this institution and others.” Jones said. “Our School of Medicine has become an advocate to help many of the other universities creating their own programs. We field questions regularly from other interested schools, and we work closely with a consortium of nine other medical schools, including New York University; Medical College of Wisconsin; University of California, Davis; University of Louisville; Penn State and others, engaged in implementing and assessing the benefits of accelerated training as a way to reduce student debt and provide more direct pathways to address physician work force needs.”


FMAT training began for the first class of students in June 2011; those first eight students graduated from medical school in May 2013, began residency the following July, and completed their third and final year of family medicine residency in June 2016. To date, 31 students have graduated from the program and begun family medicine residency. Eighteen additional students are currently in the FMAT program. 


“We are especially proud of the careers that our FMAT graduates have chosen because they are going to those communities and settings where their talents are most needed,” Jones added.


Seven of the eight graduates will be in practice in Texas, many in small communities that are medically underserved. One will continue an additional year of training in primary care fellowship.


While the percentage of TTUHSC School of Medicine students matching with family medicine in 2011 was 11.2 percent — close to the national average of 11.4 percent — by 2016, TTUHSC's average rose to 19.5 percent, while the national average remained at 11.6 percent.


“Although the process of maintaining FMAT has been challenging, what has been most satisfying has been the level of performance FMAT graduates have demonstrated as they transition to residency,” Berk said. “FMAT works and meets the goals we set. This first class completed their residency and can be proud they were the first to set the standard.”


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