Editorial: Not Your Father’s Medical Students
They trail behind their professors like ducklings, just as we all did at first. A bit awkward in their white coats and nervous in their first patient encounters, they fit the nerdy medical student stereotype.
But appearances aside, today’s bright medical students are a new breed, and they are asking new and important questions: When will animal laboratories be eliminated from our curricula? How can we bring a new emphasis on prevention and nutrition?
In March, the American Medical Student Association went on record as follows: “AMSA strongly encourages the replacement of animal laboratories with non-animal alternatives in undergraduate medical education.” At the AMSA annual convention, the resolution became organizational policy. The association went further, condemning the practice of pound seizure, in which animals are removed from pounds and shelters and sold for experimentation. The measures were brought by students from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Medical College of Wisconsin, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
As AMSA noted, the vast majority of schools have done away with animal laboratories already. Thanks largely to PCRM’s work on this issue for more than 20 years, alternatives are in place and animal labs are definitely out. In the 1980s, when animal laboratories were not only offered but often required, AMSA spoke out against faculty intimidation of students who wanted to opt out. The new resolution goes much further. The last handful of schools that insist on using animals now have to contend with a new student attitude. No more are live dogs or other animals to be laid out on a table, experimented on, and killed for educational purposes, if the students have anything to say about it. Many medical students are members of both AMSA and PCRM, and PCRM has often come to the aid of students working for ethical medical education.
Today’s medical students are also eager for a change of emphasis in medical practice—a new focus on prevention and nutrition. They have heard of Dean Ornish’s research showing that lifestyle changes can reverse heart disease and improve prostate cancer treatment. They know about PCRM’s studies on diet and diabetes. They know of Caldwell Esselstyn’s studies showing that the right kind of diet can make patients practically heart-attack-proof. They want to put these principles to work. PCRM will help them do it.
Our new Nutrition Guide for Clinicians confirms their sense that diet is critical to health, and gives them practical tools to put it to work. Distributed free of charge to medical students and other health care students, the 900-page guide moves knowledge out of research laboratories and medical libraries and puts it into their hands, ready to be shared with patients.
PCRM’s new website, NutritionMD.org, goes a step further, giving health care providers and patients access to the latest information on diet and health, along with all the means to simplify the process of change.
Yes, they still wear awkward white coats and are as nervous as ever about getting it right when it comes to clinical care. But, with the right information and encouragement, today’s students can build a new kind of ethical and effective medical practice.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM