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Medical School in Three Years Instead of Four

Medical schools in the United States traditionally require four years of study. Now, a small number of universities are offering three-year programs. Finishing medical school in three years means new doctors could begin their careers sooner.

The reduction of a year could also save up to 25 percent of the cost. That would decrease heavy student-loan debts for some students who borrow money to pay for their education. Schools offering three-year programs include the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and Mercer University in Georgia. New York University in Manhattan is also testing a three-year program.

At NYU, 10 percent of the nearly 200 students who entered the School of Medicine last fall were chosen for the new program. Students can change to the four-year program if the faster one is too difficult or too much pressure. Arthur Caplan is a bioethicist. He leads the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU. He says the current system of American medical education dates back to the early 20th century.

An American doctor named Simon Flexner studied the German model of medical education. The Germans divided it into two years of science and two years of supervised clinical work with patients. American medical schools copied the model. But Arthur Caplan says today, medical students should be spending less time in the classroom and more time gaining experience in modern medicine. After medical school, most new doctors spend at least three years working in residencies in hospitals. Further training for specialty areas can take much longer.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Alex Villarreal . (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 24Jan2013)