Training the Next Generation of Doctors and Nurses

For decades, medical education has followed a timeworn path — heaps of book learning and lectures, then clinical rotations exposing students to patients.

But as technology explodes into patient care (surgeons can preview operations using virtual 3-D images built from a patient’s scans), the gap between medical education and real-world care has “become a chasm,” said Marc Triola, director of N.Y.U. Langone’s Institute for Innovations in Medical Education, created in 2013 to address the issue.

“The health care delivery system is changing every day,” he said, “and our medical education system has been lagging.”

In what looks like an urgent game of catch-up, medical and nursing schools across the country are retooling how and what they teach. This is also getting a boost from concern about the looming shortage of primary caregivers.

While “the national narrative is that we need more” doctors and nurses, said Erin Fraher, director of the Carolina Health Workforce Research Center, “that is precisely the wrong way to frame this. The question has to be: Where are the places in the U.S. where patients cannot get access to diabetes care, access to prenatal care?”

Those questions are redesigning health care education, with more community-based clinic rotations, special programs (and scholarships) for rural and underserved students, and a greater role for nurses and nurse practitioners. As schools seek to make learning more efficient, technology — including virtual reality, augmented-reality software and high-fidelity simulations (mannequins “breathe,” cry, sweat and respond to medication) — is a big part of that.

And it must be, given that students have to learn more information, faster. Much of medicine is slow; you can’t shortcut taking a medical history. But visiting the pathology lab to study a colon sample?

This is where Greg Dorsainville, a multimedia developer and one of 28 full-time staff members in the N.Y.U. institute, steps in, using a 360-degree camera to film a 45-minute session with a pathologist. He cut the lesson to 5:46, time that a medical student can spare to don goggles, zoom in and see what a polyp actually looks like, making it something to be remembered as “a visual in their mind. It’s not just a concept.”

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