03/05/2011 11:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Med Schools Aren't Teaching

Med students are taught about everything from pathology to microbiology, but are they asked to learn enough about public health policy?

Maybe not, two new New England Journal of Medicine articles report.

One, written by four Harvard University med students (and the brains behind, cites a recent survey of medical school deans in the U.S. Of the 93 respondees, 94 percent indicated that their schools had some form of policy education -- on average, about 14 hours over four years. But almost 60 percent of the deans indicated that their school had "too little" health policy education, citing barriers like a lack of "curricular flexibility" and "faculty interest."

The second New England Journal of Medicine article on the topic also called for an up-tick in the amount of public policy education med students and residents receive. The authors recommend a focus on several broad areas, including (but not limited to) health care principles, safety, politics and law. The authors wrote that if med schools don't improve their policy curriculums, there may be "unfortunate consequences" for patients and physicians.

And yet not everyone's convinced the problem is as serious as these new studies suggest. According to Medscape Medical News, at least one senior official in the Association of American Medical College thinks they overstate the problem.

"I think there is more of this [health policy] education than the articles suggest," said M. Brownell Anderson, senior director of educational affairs.

Maybe, but the latest reports aren't the only time experts have pushed for more public health education in med schools.

Science reports that last year, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching co-funded research for a book outlining plans to overhaul med school education in the U.S. Colloquially known as the "Flexner II report" (referring to the original, 1910 Flexner report that, Science reports, resulted in sweeping changes to medical education, like more rigorous admissions standards and clinical rounds), the new book calls for emphasizing physicians's role in public health at large.

The book's authors wrote:

"In the course of our fieldwork, we saw ... missed opportunities for allowing learners to participate in the important nonclinical roles physicians play within health care and more broadly in society."