Do you think today’s physicians can be trained in three years instead of four?  There are advocates in both camps.  Opponents would say that to shorten medical education is to shortchange the training necessary for competent physicians.  Supporters would cite the benefits of accelerated pathways, including individualized training, competency based education, the option to reduce escalating student debt and the opportunity to align education to societal needs.  Many accelerated programs, such as FMAT (Family Medicine Accelerated Track) at Texas Tech, focus on training primary care physicians in underserved areas. 


 Three-year medical education is neither a new nor a radical idea.  Many medical schools in the 1970’s offered accelerated pathways.  Studies from the 1970’s have shown that graduates of 3-year programs are equally competent compared to residents trained in traditional 4-year schools.  In a recent survey of deans of U.S. medical schools, 35% of the schools are planning to start accelerated pathway.

 In 2014, the Penn State College of Medicine launched FM-APPS (Family Medicine Accelerated Program at Penn State) and we are currently accepting our third class.  The program allows students who have already decided to be family physicians to move forward in their education faster, saving a year of tuition and entering their career sooner.  To improve efficiency, the traditional block clerkships are replaced with a longitudinal integrated clerkship (LIC) where students, supervised by physician mentors, follow a panel of patients over a year.  The integrated format enables students to establish trust with patients and creates more meaningful team roles for students. They spend more time providing direct patient care independently, making learning more efficient.  We have found that mentoring from faculty over an extended period of time enhanced professional identify formation of the learners.

 Students in the 3-year program are required to meet all graduation requirements.  Students begin their acceleration in the spring of their first year by enrolling in clinical courses (elective and clerkship) alongside of the basic science courses.  Most of the time saved in FM-APPS is from giving up vacation in the summer and in the fourth year of medical school.  Due to the conditional acceptance into the Family Medicine residency program, students do not need to do audition electives or travel to interview in residency programs, common activities in the 4th year of medical school.  In 2017, Penn State College of Medicine will offer accelerated pathways in Orthopedics, Neurosurgery, Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine.

 As noted by James Kent, our inaugural student, “This type of program is not simply about a shorter education, but a better education for students who want to go into primary care. It’s efficient, there’s early exposure to patient care and there’s a steep learning curve that allows for an integrated and diverse educational process.”

 Seeing the potential for supporting and accelerating education reform, the Josiah Macy Foundation funded a Consortium of Accelerated Medical Pathway Programs (CAMPP),

 Penn State is one of the original eight medical schools that have come together to share best practices of accelerated pathways, to participate in studies to address the question of how best to do medical school in three years and to ensure that the quality of the graduates is equal to or better than that of the 4-year curriculum.

 For more information on the Accelerated Program, visit our website: FMAPPS


Shou Ling Leong

Shou Ling Leong, MD, is Professor, Associate Vice-Chair for Education and Predoctoral Director for Family and Community Medicine at the Penn State College of Medicine. One of her passions for medical education is to align medical training to the healthcare needs of the nation. This recently led to the creation of a Family Medicine “3+3” accelerated program involving medical school in 3 years followed by Family Medicine Residency in 3, at Penn State.  As Director of Longitudinal and Accelerated Programs she is leading the development of longitudinal integrated clerkships and four other accelerated programs.