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December 19, 2017

Is Medical Education a Public or a Private Good?Insights From the Numbers

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine
JAMA. 2017;318(23):2303-2305. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.17552

The US educational system has 2, at times competing, goals. Education is commonly viewed as a public good, designed to prepare the workforce that the country needs and to educate citizens who contribute to the health of the US democracy. However, education is also seen as a private good, geared toward helping the individual maximize social mobility and personal success.1 From Virchow in the 19th century to Frenk in the 21st century, thought leaders have embraced the view of medical education as a predominantly public good rather than a private one, maintaining that the purpose of medical education is to improve the health of communities and to decrease the burden of illness and disease.2,3 The annual JAMA publication of data describing the demographic composition, geographic distribution, and specialty focus of learners and programs in US undergraduate medical education4 and graduate medical education5 provides an opportunity for the medical profession to once again consider whether the medical education community is designed to strike the appropriate balance between providing a public good and a private good.