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New program aims to move future pediatricians through training based on abilities, not years

Students who are interested in pediatrics will experience a seamless transition from medical school to residency through the EPAC program. (Photo: Scott Streble, Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota)

Deborah Powell, M.D., is looking for a particular group of medical students: those who are unafraid to try new things, those who ask good questions, and, above all, those who are genuinely interested in pediatrics.

These students are the ones Powell, Medical School dean emeritus, hopes to recruit to participate in Education in Pediatrics Across the Continuum (EPAC), a new project she designed for the University of Minnesota and three other medical schools.

The program has two goals: first, to combine traditional medical school education and residency training in one pathway; and second, to move the students through the curriculum based on their abilities and competency rather than their time in school. This means that students could potentially finish medical school in as little as three years — and consequently save thousands of dollars in tuition.

“What’s magic about four years?” Powell asks.

EPAC students will meet all Medical School requirements while spending significantly more time with patients and completing the rest of their training from a pediatrician’s perspective, she says.

Medical educators have long advocated for compensation-based training, but it can be hard to set new processes in motion. It’s easy just to “move people through” without trying to make changes, says Powell.

Students who started medical school at the University this fall heard about the project at orientation. Those who express interest in EPAC will be part of a large group that will start in a clinical setting in their second year. In the second half of that year, four or five of those students will be chosen to participate in the pilot program.

The University of Utah; the University of California, San Francisco; and the University of Colorado are pilot-testing the program, too.

Powell says she is eager to see if medical schools can advance students without focusing on the number of years they spend in school. “The world has changed, and the way people learn best is not just one size fits all.”

By Grace Birnstengel, a University of Minnesota journalism student

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