BACKGROUND: Medical schools are undergoing major curricular reform, partly in attempts to increase the number of graduates pursuing careers in the generalist disciplines. These reforms have often resulted in a shortening of the surgery clerkship, decreasing students' experiences in several domains important to the generalist. METHODS: A seven-question survey of clerkship directors of US medical schools was administered to measure the magnitude of curriculum change during the past 5 years affecting the surgery and family practice clerkships. The survey also addressed attitudes about the purpose of the surgery clerkship. RESULTS: There was an 80% (103 of 129) response rate. Between 1989 and 1994, surgery clerkships decreased on average from 11 to 10.2 weeks (P <0.05) while family practice clerkships increased from 4.2 to 6.8 weeks (P <0.05). Ninety-one percent of clerkship directors felt the primary goal of the clerkship should be to train generalists. CONCLUSIONS: The length of the surgery clerkship has decreased at several institutions. In order to ensure an appropriate educational experience for medical students, surgeons must participate actively in curriculum reform within medical schools and highlight their unique role in training generalists.
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