One of the many things the pandemic has shone a light on in the past year is how a variety of systems intersect and influence health — from politics, economics and business, to social justice and the environment.
We do a great job in medical education of training students to be extremely proficient and knowledgeable in one area of expertise. However, we also know that health and health care are complex, and some of the greatest innovation, brightest ideas and most prolific out-of-the-box thinking comes from people who have a broad perspective of the world and draw on concepts from outside their specific area of expertise.
For the past two decades, I’ve heard from students that they are looking for opportunities to continue with their pre-medicine interests, explore leadership skills, and seek new opportunities to broaden knowledge and expand their career abilities. But never before has the importance of this been so apparent. The pandemic has taught us that there is so much more to understanding disease and wellness than just medicine.
With that in mind, we at Western wanted to re-think how we educate the physicians of tomorrow; to give medical students the space and support to dive deeper into their personal interests or discover new passions outside of medicine while completing their medical degrees.
And so, at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, we’ve launched a new track in our Doctor of Medicine program called MD+, which offers medical students different pathways to pursue an advanced degree or diploma while completing their medical degrees. It provides the opportunity to personalize their learning journey and to experience interdisciplinary, experiential learning in a wide variety of subjects.
Students can choose a thesis-based pathway and take a one-year leave of absence from medical school to dive into the lab setting and pursue a master’s degree in basic medical sciences. They can also choose the course-based pathway and take a year away from their medical studies to maybe complete an Ivey MBA, get a master’s in global health systems or travel abroad for a master’s degree in the history of medicine. They can also concurrently pursue a professional master in interdisciplinary space studies, a graduate diploma in public administration or an undergraduate music diploma using their independent study time. The list of exciting opportunities continues to grow.
No matter which pathway they choose, students in the MD+ track will graduate with more than just their MD degree. For example, a student may graduate with their medical degree and a master’s in public health after five years, or a graduate diploma in public administration after four years of concurrent study.
In the future, they can draw on this training to expand their career possibilities and create a foundation in medical administration, health research, academia, public health and even space medicine. The possibilities really are limitless.
I know just how difficult it is to pursue graduate or other additional training during or after residency. We wanted to create a construct that reduces those challenges by providing the time and financial and academic support for students who are inclined to follow this path.
In business and industry, they refer to the difference between “I-shaped” professionals and “T-shaped” professionals. I-shaped professionals are those who are highly specialized and learn by focusing the microscope in one particular field, while T-shaped are those who are more inclined to take up multiple interests, and learn by making connections between these different areas.
While we definitely benefit from both types, I like to think of the “+” in MD+ as not just signifying the addition of a degree or diploma, but also symbolizing this idea of the T-shaped professional. We want to encourage those students who are looking for opportunities to broaden out their skillset, to be able to take that path with our full support.
John Yoo is dean of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University.