Integration and timing of basic and clinical sciences education
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BACKGROUND: Medical education has traditionally been compartmentalized into basic and clinical sciences, with the latter being viewed as the skillful application of the former. Over time, the relevance of basic sciences has become defined by their role in supporting clinical problem solving rather than being, of themselves, a defining knowledge base of physicians. METHODS: As part of the national Future of Medical Education in Canada (FMEC MD) project, a comprehensive empirical environmental scan identified the timing and integration of basic sciences as a key pressing issue for medical education. Using the literature review, key informant interviews, stakeholder meetings, and subsequent consultation forums from the FMEC project, this paper details the empirical basis for focusing on the role of basic science, the evidentiary foundations for current practices, and the implications for medical education. FINDINGS: Despite a dearth of definitive relevant studies, opinions about how best to integrate the sciences remain strong. Resource allocation, political power, educational philosophy, and the shift from a knowledge-based to a problem-solving profession all influence the debate. There was little disagreement that both sciences are important, that many traditional models emphasized deep understanding of limited basic science disciplines at the expense of other relevant content such as social sciences, or that teaching the sciences contemporaneously rather than sequentially has theoretical and practical merit. Innovations in integrated curriculum design have occurred internationally. Less clear are the appropriate balance of the sciences, the best integration model, and solutions to the political and practical challenges of integrated curricula. DISCUSSION: New curricula tend to emphasize integration, development of more diverse physician competencies, and preparation of physicians to adapt to evolving technology and patients' expectations. Refocusing the basic/clinical dichotomy to a foundational/applied model may yield benefits in training widely competent future physicians.