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Posted on December 28, 2016 at 10:08 AM

I realize that this is not the assessment of the US News and
World Report, or other major organizations that rank US medical schools, but I
believe it quite possibly is true.  Organizations
that rank medical schools look at dollars of research grant funding, or the
test scores of the students, but what is really important is the quality of the
physician they graduate.  But what do we
mean by quality?  And who should be the
judge of this?

A survey of
patients in a primary care setting revealed that the most important quality
that they sought in their physicians was empathy.  More important than even clinical skill or
knowledge, they wanted a physician who listened and cared.  This response cut across demographics—the
old, young, rich, poor, all ranked empathy as the most important quality of a
physician. And shouldn’t patients be the ones to tell us what is most valuable
in a physician, and by extension what the most important mission of medical
schools must be?

The
curriculum of medical schools across the country differs little in terms of the
basic sciences taught and clinical rotations of the last two years.  Students from Harvard and Albany need to pass
the same standardized tests to graduate, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t
differences.  Students at Albany Medical
College spend more time learning ethics, and discussing the humanistic aspects
of clinical care during their last two years of medical school than any other
medical school I have yet discovered. 
When Dr Shelton and I discussed our curriculum at a national bioethics
conference two years ago, educators from other schools were shocked at how much
curriculum time we had with students during their clinical years, and none had
anything close to comparable.

I just finished
six one-and-a-half hour sessions with third-year students on their internal
medical clerkship.  At the end I asked
them whether it had helped them.  The
fact that I do not grade them at all made their answers less suspect, and to a
person they praised the time we had spent together. 

            “A chance
to reflect.”

            “Helping me
stay human.”

            “I want to
keep feeling.”

At that
same bioethics conference I listened to a talk on teaching empathy during
medical school, and I kept thinking that the speaker had it all wrong.  Our job is to preserve empathy, not teach it,
and we preserve it by allowing students the opportunity to share the good, the
bad, and the ugly with each other in a safe environment.  We do that. Others should follow our example.  A third-year student told me that the best
examples of compassionate patient care came from the residents who had trained
at Albany Medical College as medical students, and that she believed it was the
ethics curriculum that was making the difference.

NIH grants,
and licensing exam scores are not unimportant, and Albany Medical College is a
good medical school by any marker chosen. 
But by the marker chosen by patients, we may, in fact, be the best.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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