Dr. Stephen Klasko, the president of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and CEO of Jefferson Health, says that medical schools have the recruiting process all wrong.
In an age of advanced technology, they're still choosing students who can reel off organic chemistry compounds, rather than screening for qualities like critical thinking, entrepreneurship and empathy. Once students arrive, they're being asked to spend years on rote memorization.
It's a system designed to "suck the creativity out of physicians," Klasko said, while encouraging them to compete with each other, rather than collaborate.
Klasko is pushing Thomas Jefferson along a different path, one that's similarly being followed by Mount Sinai, Yale and Stanford. They're all seeking ways to find candidates that may not be obvious targets for medical school by using techniques that are well known to tech companies. Klasko's son once interviewed for a job at Google, and "they didn't want to see a transcript," he said. Recruiters asked him a series of questions to see whether he could come up with creative solutions on the fly.
Klasko has worked with a firm called Teleos Leaders, which has clients ranging from Cisco to IBM, to develop a program to select medical students on the basis of their emotional intelligence.
"We need to make medical students more human," Klasko said in an interview. "The way things are today is that you can be the most antisocial person in the room, but if we train you to pass a multiple choice test you can go and treat sick patients."
Jefferson is tapping humanities departments, design universities and drama schools to convince young graduates to consider a career in medicine. It has a partnership with Princeton University that allows about a dozen Princeton undergraduates each year to take the minimum number of science courses and study any other subjects they wish before attending medical school at Jefferson.
It also has a program that trains students in design thinking under Bon Ku, an emergency room physician who was described by a local publication as "one of the coolest docs in Philadelphia." Ku graduated with a degree in classics and was terrible at math.
FlexMed at New York's Mount Sinai allows college sophomores in any major to apply for early acceptance. Students in humanities have proven to be just as successful as those with a science background, and they're more likely to choose primary care or psychiatry as a specialty, which are both areas facing shortages. Other med schools like Yale and Stanford are offering art appreciation courses alongside traditional subjects like pathology and microbiology.
Ku predicts that as artificial intelligence become more prominent, memorization skills will become far less relevant.
"We still need the basic memorization of scientific knowledge, but no human can possibly keep up," Ku told CNBC. "Medical knowledge is doubling at this crazy rate. So instead there should be a greater emphasis on creative problem solving."
Klasko sees a future in which technology will be used to provide an immediate list of drugs for a particular case and offer clinical decision support tools to make a diagnosis. That will free doctors up to spend time listening to their patients, improving their surgical techniques or learning new skills.
Klasko has a real-life example. He said that in his career as an obstetrician and gynecologist, he's delivered thousands of babies. While most are fairly routine, occasionally an infant is born unexpectedly with a genetic disease like Down Syndrome. In such cases, parents will often ask him what it all means.
They don't want a detailed explanation of the chromosomal anomaly, but rather to understand how to deal with this new reality and how to be proper caregivers. Sometimes they just to talk to someone about their hopes and fears.
"At some point, the real bar should be whether or not you can actually listen to patients and talk to them," Klasko said.