UT med schools could require less undergrad time

AUSTIN, TX Six University of Texas campuses are partnering on plans to shorten the time it takes to earn a bachelor's degree, a medical degree or both.

A pilot program for select freshmen could begin in 2013 at UT-Austin, plus at campuses in Dallas, San Antonio, Brownsville, El Paso and Edinburg, the Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday. The Transformation in Medical Education program, or TIME, and has been seeded with $4 million from UT regents.

The goal is to link undergraduate schooling to physician education to make medical school more efficient and increase the number of Texas doctors, said Dr. Kenneth Shine, the UT System's executive vice chancellor for health affairs.

"Medical education, in general, takes too long, costs too much, it's redundant, and it also doesn't necessarily prepare people for practice in the 21st century," Shine said.

About 20 of the 135 U.S. accredited medical schools offer some sort of shortcut to graduation, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. A similar program began this month at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

A student can skip the fourth year of medical school and receive a year's worth of scholarships, cutting the average four-year debt of $150,000 in half, said Dr. Ron Cook, interim chairman of family medicine at Texas Tech.

UT-Austin's plan would involve 60 freshman undergraduates with a record of high academic achievement. All would be guaranteed a slot in medical school at UT Southwestern in Dallas or the UT Health Science Center at Houston if they maintain good grades plus abide by other standards still being defined, said David Laude, a senior associate dean at UT-Austin.

Another 60 freshmen would be added in the spring, according to Laude.

The plan is to cut a year from the bachelor's degree, reducing the overall time to finish college and graduate from medical school from eight years to six or seven, Laude said. Flexibility would be built into the program so students could take a year to explore an area of interest, such as working on a master's degree in public health or performing medical research, Laude said. In that situation, the complete program would take seven years instead of six.

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