When reflecting upon the greatest medical advancements in the last fifty years of medicine, certain broad and worthy categories come to mind. Imaging technology, drug design, and minimally invasive surgery have made great changes in how patients are treated. As a fourth year medical student, I routinely request a CT, suggest a regimen of Gleevac, or recommend a laproscopic procedure. All of these advances have made waves in the practice of medicine, public expectations, and medical education. Predictive health research, however, has not yet fully entered the medical school curriculum.
I doubt whether there is a single undergraduate who gains acceptance to medical school who cannot identify the names Watson or Crick or explain the basic function of DNA. By now, most students are also aware of the recent completion and publication of J. Craig Venter’s genome. Nevertheless, discussions with my peers suggest that medical students may not be fully prepared for the medical and ethical implications of recent genetic research. Predictive health research discoveries are taught, but the potential clinical applications are lost in translation--stuck somewhere on the path from the bench to the bedside . . . or, in my case, from the pages of the textbook to the patient.
For my generation of medical students, predictive health research has the potential to significantly change the practice of medicine. While programs like the Personal Genetics Education Project at Harvard are building interest in predictive health, and while the public is flooded by a confusing array of genetics news reports, what are medical schools doing to prepare future physicians for the predictive health revolution?
Medical students and educators should step up their efforts to join the conversation about the clinical promise and ethical issues of predictive health. We need to start thinking and talking about how we make use of the predictive tools we already have and how we will prepare for future tools. For example, how many of us are ready to explain to new parents the meaning of normal newborn screening results? Are we fully prepared to share the non-watered-down reasons for why we may want a fifty-year old man to get a colonoscopy? Are we ready to address the anxieties of a patient considering a genetic test to better determine her risk of breast cancer? Clearly, students and bloggers like Bertalan Meskó at ScienceRoll are doing their share to spread the word, but we should encourage our mentors and professors to join the discussion. What is the current state of predictive health, and where can we expect it to advance?
[Note: To encourage a public discussion of the ethical, legal and social implications of predictive health research, PredictER Blog will be inviting guest contributions from students, professionals, and interested members of the public. This post from Pat Barrett, a fourth year medical student at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a graduate student of the Indiana University School of Philosophy, is a fitting introduction to this new feature of PredictER Blog. -- J.O.]