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Why Are Medical Students Shying Away From Traditional Physician Roles?
By Shayne Bevilacqua | 07-23-2015

The year 2012 marked an important advance in health care with medical records migrating to electronic systems in a move that signaled the era of digital medicine. Since then, one has to only look at his or her phone to see the bevy of apps (Apple’s newest iOS comes with Apple Health) sprawled all over the digital landscape promising to improve a person’s health by allowing better access to care. With this change in the direction of health care has come new opportunities for students practicing medicine.


A recent blog on NPR documented the changes that have been occurring in Bay Area students. Out of 123 medical schools in the U.S., Stanford ranks 117th in the amount of students moving on to residencies, and UCSF ranks 98th, with 79 percent of its students going on to residency. Why the decreasing percentages in students moving on to traditional health care roles? One of the common answers is that they want to have a larger presence in interacting with patients.


The digital tapestry in health care is expanding, and tech startups are increasingly interested in hiring people who have medical training. As David Shaywitz points out in his recent article for Forbes, though, the tech sector is not the only place that the so-called “dropout doctors” can find work.


I’m struck by how many career paths are available to physicians that involve neither entrepreneurship nor clinical practice.  I am just returning from a genomics policy meeting in Washington DC, organized by the standards organization HL7, and I was struck by the diversity of roles represented by some of the physician speakers and panelists.


One thing that Shaywitz argues is that there is a lack of diversity when it comes to professions available to students in medical school. It might seem to many like it is a choice between starting a private practice, becoming an academic, or joining a hospital model. The reason why students are succumbing to the romance of tech seems to be the ability to exercise entrepreneurial muscles while embracing medicine’s promise to provide outstanding health care to patients. There’s even a private Facebook group called “dropout doctors” that features some of the brightest minds in medical-tech.


The extension of digital health care continues to expand, and with it will likely arise more opportunities for medical students to find comfort in. Is this a good thing or bad thing? It remains to be seen, but the most important thing is achieving personalized health care that caters to a patient’s needs. If tech can bring that experience to the public, then it’s a worthwhile venture.