Written by S.M. Audsley

The path to becoming a doctor, or pursuing any highly skilled medical degree or program, can be long and arduous. Traditional programs last four years before you begin your first residency placement at a hospital. Non-traditional medical school programs with accelerated programs are trending and becoming more popular. Enrollment is increasing, and more and more prospective medical students are considering this an accelerated program as a better option for them as they search for the best medical school fit.  

Medical school in three years? It might just be the future. Three-year programs are enticing more prospective medical students. “I predict that every school will wind up having a three-year pathway as students become more familiar with it,” says Joan Cangiarella, MD, who heads the Consortium of Accelerated Medical Pathway Programs. The three-year accelerated medical school program works by reducing the number of electives, cutting vacation time (you’ll likely be in class or in a practicum during the summer months), and your clinicals will start earlier than usual. Eight-week summer intensives are common ways to shrink the calendar and to optimize your time and experience both in the classroom and in real-world situations. You might also be asked to pick your specialty sooner rather than later. For the self-directed, motivated, resilient, exceptional academic student, the three-year program might be the best fit.

If you’re an aspiring doctor, you already know you’ve picked a challenging and long-term intensive field of study and profession. However, now imagine if you were told you could complete your training and start working in the fraction of the time you thought it would take. It’s worth researching and considering an accelerated medical degree today! Here are eight reasons why you should consider putting the “pedal to the metal” on becoming a doctor.

1. You will save a year...

Our first reason to consider an accelerated medical school program is obvious: you’ll save yourself a year of study! Yes, doing something that normally takes four years in three years does require a certain amount of superhero power. We’ve all seen what the Avengers can do, but at the end of the day, the real superheroes are the ones who challenge themselves, stand for something, and work hard and fearlessly, with determination, towards their goals. Imagine being able to be done with your studies in a fraction of the normal time. Save yourself time. Or, maybe the superhero you aspire to be is more like Hermione Granger with her Time Turner...either way, three-year medical schools deliver the same information in significantly less time, in addition to evaluating how and what works best for students, these programs are also designed to help students make the most of their time by using intensives, especially during the summer. The ability to work continuously not only saves time, but also provides momentum.

2. ...Not to mention money.

High tuition costs can be crippling for medical school graduates. In shaving off a year, three-year medical school programs help students also shave off tuition costs, while positioning themselves to start earning a year earlier. Additionally, residency acceptance is included in some of these programs, meaning students also save on travel and applications. According to recent data published in Academic Medicine, a journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, it is more and more apparent that “three-year programs could reduce lifetime student debt burden and provide an opportunity for an additional year of productive clinical practice. For the 2012–2013 academic year, the mean education debt for graduating medical students in the United States was over $170,000. A three-year program could thus reduce a student’s debt burden by tens of thousands of dollars.” This amount of savings is nothing to scoff at! If you could significantly reduce your overall student debt, it’s a no brainer to consider a three-year program as your path to becoming a doctor.

3. You will benefit from the innovative nature of these programs.

It’s not surprising that three-year programs -- being quickly developed and implemented -- are offering the best innovations and cutting-edge learning experiences for their enrolled students. “Three-year programs can drive innovation,” says Matthew Hunsaker, MD, dean of the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Green Bay campus, which is exclusively three-year. “We are working to teach more efficiently, so we’re testing lots of ideas on sequencing, format, and early clinical experiences that four-year programs may be more hesitant to try but that are essential for us.” Also, it seems like this new format is inspiring not only medical students, but also getting professors and teachers in the medical field jazzed to try new things. A psyched teacher or professor can be the most inspiring and motivating part of any learning experience!

4. Enter the workforce sooner, and help to address the physician shortage.

Shaving off a year of medical school, obviously, also means you’ll be able to enter the workforce sooner. This is much needed as there is currently a physician shortage in certain sectors of the medical field. A recent article in Forbes demonstrates the increased need for physicians in the US: the number of Americans age 65 or older is expected to double over the next 40 years. A report from the American Association of Medical Colleges predicts a dearth of 120,000 physicians by 2030. Without adequate physicians, patients may experience long wait times, receive delayed medical attention, and be limited to care from non-physician providers. These numbers are alarming, but you could be the solution to this growing need for highly skilled and well-trained doctors. Plus, a three-year program will get you there faster!

5. Your transition to residency may be smoother.

Some of the three-year programs include residency acceptances. This makes the last year of medical school when students are applying for residency programs much less stressful. Plus, it also makes for a smoother intern year since new residents are already familiar with the hospital and its people and programs. Called “early conditional acceptance” this is one of the perks of pursuing your medical degree in three years instead of four. You’ll know in advance where your residency will be; you’ll already be working towards your specialty; and you will save time and energy because you won’t have to apply for residencies and go through the interview process since you will already have secured a spot in a program.

6. An excellent pathway for other healthcare providers.

If you are already working in the healthcare field, but always wanted to become a physician, an accelerated three-year medical school program might be the best pathway to make this transition. Another plus, “accelerated family medicine and internal medicine programs have been shown to reduce training time without degradation of performance.” If you already work in a hospital setting, you’ll have an advantage compared to students fresh from undergrad. You will know the ins and outs of the place. And, most of all, you won’t be intimidated by all the jargon and can put your knowledge and skills to use immediately.

7. It may be an easier path to admissions.

Clearly, there are no guarantees in any admissions process -- it’s lengthy and always a gamble. But, you might consider how applying to an accelerated medical degree program might be an easier path to admissions. The applicant pool, generally, will be smaller and there are fewer programs to choose from. Knowing what you want, as far as a specialty, will give you a competitive edge in the application process. One student claims that accelerated programs are competitive, but may not be as competitive as traditional entry into medical school. It’s worth making a pros and cons list; doing your research; and ultimately, taking the time to find the best fit for you. Medical school is a lifelong investment in your career and professional actualization.

The truth about accelerated medical programs: three-year programs aren’t right for everyone, but they’re a perfect fit for some! Taking the time to consider this as an option for your studies and future career as a doctor is worth your time. Embarking on this path is a long odyssey, and you should feel like you’re at the helm, directing your own course, even with the wind blowing and the waves lapping at the boat. Best wishes on this journey!

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