There is a great debate occuring on Gross Anatomy, written by a Stanford first year medical student and on Grunt Doc, with many of the pros and cons of standford’s new curriculum change posted in their comments.

Rather than debate the two, I’ll simply share my experience. Prior to starting medical school, I volunteered about 200 hours of service time to Operation Safety Net, while I was also taking 36 credits of all science classes to try and get into medical school AND working 16 hours a week (and walking uphill both ways in the snow…) Why? Because I wanted to. I enjoyed it all. I got better grades than I ever had in college (a 3.98 overall for those 36 credits)

When I got into medical school, I applied for the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, in which I did ANOTHER 200 hour community service project AND got paid for it. Why? I enjoyed it, I needed something to disctract me from the sheer boredom and depression of trying to cram 2000 years worth of medical information into my brain in 8 hours a day of lecture.

Did my eventual choice of specialization have anything to do with either of those projects? Probably not. Despite having put in 400 hours of “specialization” as many of the cons in this debate would call it, I volunteered much of my free time passionately interacting with a specific underserved population, teaching, learning and generally feeling good about what I was doing. (as opposed to medical school in which positive feedback is rare, being on the bottom of the feeding chain/totem pole is a given, and pimping is a rite of passage.)

On the other had, I deliberately chose a school where an area of concentration was not required, it was optional. I could do anything I watned in my free time without worrying about fulfilling curriculum requiremnts. My school offered an area of concentration in underserved medicine in my 2nd or 3rd year…although I had essentially med the requirements, I chose not to get the certificate. Why? Because I didn’t want my free time activities to have to conform to someone else’s standards.

For those of you long out of medical school, medical students these days are older (I took my first anatomy exam at teh age of 30), they have much more varied backgrounds (biochem/biology/premed majors are so oldschool), and have preexisting interests in rural, third world, underserved, geriatric, pediatric and women’s health. Spending 400 hours in community service to homeless did not commit me to a career in inner city family practice medicaid clinics. Rather it allowed me to express myself, apply classroom work in REAL LIFE situations and climb out the the deep emotional chasm of medical education.

Medical student applicants have plenty of choices on where they want to go to school, and I chose mine to fit my “non-traditional” background as well as my ability to freely choose where to spend my free time. Is my medical school at the forefront of education (as standford thinks it is) because they offer optional areas of concetration? I think so, and many of my classmates do as well. I am amazed at the great things my classmates acomplished through these more formal (entirely optional) routes of education.

Whew…I’m done. Time for a beer!