Abraham Flexner's analysis of U.S. medical education at the turn of the 20th century transformed the processes of student selection and instruction, the roles and responsibilities of faculty members, and the provision of resources to support medical education. Flexner's report also led to the nearly universal adoption of the academic medical center as the focal point of medical school teaching, research, and clinical activities. In this article, the authors describe the effects of the dissemination of this model and how the subsequent introduction of public funding for research and patient care transformed academic health centers and altered the composition of the physician workforce, resulting in the proliferation of specialties. They also describe how these workforce changes, along with the evolution of health care financing during the late 20th century, have led to a system that affords the most scientifically advanced and potentially efficacious care in the world, yet so profoundly fails to ensure affordability and equitable access and quality, that the system is no longer sustainable. The authors propose that both health care system reform and medical education reform are needed now to restore economic viability and moral integrity, and that a key element of this process will be to rebalance the generalist and specialist composition of the physician workforce. They conclude by suggesting that post-Flexnerian reform of medical education should include broadening the scope of criteria used to select medical students and reshaping the curriculum to address the evolving needs of patient care during the 21st century.
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