FDA commissioner calls for changes in medical education

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 - Tim Casey
Tim Casey, Executive Editor

At the ACC scientific session earlier this month, FDA commissioner Robert Califf, MD, outlined a future that he envisions will include more of an emphasis on training doctors to understand the importance of data analysis and understanding cost considerations.

Califf delivered the Eugene Braunwald Lecture, which is named after the famous cardiologist from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. During his speech, Califf discussed the need for more evidence-based medicine that integrates clinicians, patients and research into decision making for patient care. He also called the system around clinical research “too slow, too expensive and not reliable enough.”

Califf then took some questions from panelists and offered his opinion on medical education.

“I really believe we do need to ground the practice in the empirical quantitative discipline,” Califf said. “It’s not that you don’t need the biological training that’s been a heavy emphasis. But as I’ve been around the last few years making rounds at medical schools, I think we haven’t really captured the art of thinking quantitatively, how to make decisions and how to interact with people around the data.”

Califf, a cardiologist, has a well-rounded view of medicine in that he’s been a practicing physician, professor and vice chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke University and founder of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, the world’s largest academic research organization.

The Senate  confirmed Califf as FDA commissioner in February, five months after President Barack Obama nominated him for the position. One of Califf’s main priorities in his new role is adopting more evidence-based medicine, and that starts by training doctors during medical school and their early years in the field.

“I think there is a sea change needed,” Califf said. “As I look at young people now, they’re pretty well prepared. They grow up using their personal devices and are ready for it. It’s us old teachers who may not be quite up to speed yet.”

Another problem is that the technology used in healthcare isn’t always reliable and helpful, according to Califf.

“We’re going through a very tough time right now,” he said. “It’s a technology assimilation gap where people are entering data into computers and not getting anything back. It’s making things worse. I think that’s going to be a time-limit phenomenon because most other areas of business have gotten beyond that.”

-Tim Casey
Executive Editor