Magazine article Insight on the News

Is There a Doctor in the Classroom?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Is There a Doctor in the Classroom?

Article excerpt

Medical advances ranging from brain scans to Viagra have revolutionized the way doctors practice medicine. And that's the problem, according to critics who want docs back in class.

Patients expect their doctors to stay on the cutting edge of medical technology. But the procedures they learned in medical school rapidly become outdated as new treatments and new drugs reach the field, and the changes keep coming. Medical knowledge is doubling every three-and-a-half years, and doctors are not continually required to demonstrate their competence.

"Everyone assumes that we're regularly tested, and that's just not true" says E. Fuller Torrey, a research psychiatrist and president of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va. "There is more regulation of plumbers in the U.S. than psychiatrists."

David Swankin, president of the Citizen Advocacy Center in Washington, agrees. "The great majority of licensed doctors are never seen by the [state medical] board after they get their initial license" he says. "If doctors pass their initial exam and continue paying their dues, they're licensed for life."

Critics say the current system of continuing medical education, known as CME, is not enforced rigorously enough to keep doctors up to date. Take, for example, the Northern California Psychiatric Society, which sponsored a trip to the Santa Fe Opera as part of its continuing-education program. Psychiatrists attended lectures such as "The Psychotherapeutic Implications of La Boheme and "Reality in Art: Mozart and Puccini and Their Works."

"Psychiatrists are undoubtedly the only professionals who can go to the opera, get credit as `continuing medical education' and write it off their taxes," says Torrey.

But other colorful CME brochures tout trips to Europe and the Far East, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania or river rafting in Chile, under the guise of "international medical studies" or "wilderness medicine." All offer participants credit for continuing medical education, not to mention more tax write-offs.

Murray Kopelow, executive director of the Accrediting Commission for Continuing Medical Education in Chicago, maintains that his organization regularly investigates complaints about courses. "The task of making this information available to doctors in the field is huge, because the amount of change is accelerating," says Kopelow, whose organization evaluates and approves continuing medical education courses. "That's what CME is all about."

According to Dale L. Austin, deputy executive vice president of the Federation of State Medical Boards, "The vast majority of physicians stay very current and competent" through both CME and peer review in their hospitals. …

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