Scholarly concentrations offered by U.S. medical schools have rapidly proliferated over the past ten years, ever since a small group of schools shared their experiences with these tracks and pathways at the 2007 AAMC Meeting. These are programs that provide students with opportunities for in-depth study in a particular area.
Concentrations vary from school to school. At the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, students can select concentrations in 13 areas, including aging, biomedical informatics, global health, integrative medicine, ethics, and women's reproductive health. Stanford Medicine offers 15 areas of study.
At medical schools that offer concentrations, students are generally permitted to explore concentration areas after matriculation. "We introduce the program itself at orientation, and then throughout fall semester we allow various concentration area directors to introduce the concentrations to any student that's interested," says Thais Mather. Dr. Mather is the Associate Director of Preclinical Curriculum and Director of the Scholarly Concentrations Program at Alpert Medical School.
Once a concentration is selected, students join a structured program which may involve lectures, journal clubs, conferences, and meetings. Most concentrations also require completion of an independent, scholarly project. Through this process, medical schools hope that their students will gain expertise in a specific area, learn how to complete a project from beginning to end in a self-directed manner, hone oral and written communication skills, and develop important critical thinking skills.
With adequate mentoring and supervision, we have seen students make remarkable contributions through these concentrations, benefiting their school, fellow students, and the community. Beyond these benefits, students may gain an advantage in the residency match in one or more of the following ways:
Development of strong relationship with faculty mentor
Presentation of work at local, regional, national, and international conferences
Publication of work in journals
Inclusion of work in the Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE)
Discussion of work during residency interviews
Certificate upon completion of the pathway
Recognition at medical school graduation
Up until now, there was little known about the outcomes of these programs. The publication of several recent reports have shed some light on short-term outcomes. University of South Florida College of Medicine, researchers wrote that "data from the last six years of our elective research scholarly concentration show a growth in student research, publications and talks."
In another report, Alpert Medical school researchers wrote that "SC [Scholarly Concentration] students achieved more honors in the six core clerkships and were more likely to be inducted into the medical school's two honor societies...SC students published an average of 1.3 peer-reviewed manuscripts per student, higher than the 0.8 manuscripts per non-SC student."
Although the study of the benefits and outcomes of scholarly concentrations is in its infancy, these early results should be encouraging to the thousands of medical students enrolled in these diverse programs.