Heal for America?

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Dr. William V. Healey proposes that we apply the Teach for America model to medical care. That’s right: recruit bright college graduates into the medical profession for one- or two-year stints. This program would be called Heal for America.

College graduates, it seems to me, would respond favorably to a program that would train and then use them to help diminish some of our shortcomings in clinical care and medical education.

What are some of those shortcomings in care that intelligent and reasonably trained individuals might help with in a patient’s home? Understanding of, and compliance with, a physician’s orders. Improving cleanliness in homes and helping patients with personal hygiene. Some tasks as simple as proper hand washing are frequently not done for lack of appreciation of how these practices can cut the vectors of disease or lessen their severity. The war on obesity needs to be waged. Adequate sleep explained. Exercise encouraged.

But there’s a subtle difference. Unlike TFA fellows, these HFA members “would not try to be amateur physicians, physician’s assistants or substitute registered nurses.” They wouldn’t even enter a patient’s home without the patient’s written approval. No public money would be used for HFA.

Interesting twist. Is Healey implicitly criticizing an aspect of TFA, or is he saying that medicine requires more caution than education?


  1. He IS implying that health workers require more training than education workers. Well, educators hold their patients’ lives in their hands just as much as doctors do. That we allow folks to “play teacher” for 2 years to our most needy children is a disgrace. TFAs should be in the same education tutor roles he is suggesting for health care.

  2. I respectfully disagree with Lynn’s comments. TFA students are the top of the class. Many (most) teachers were not. TFA students have true academic knowledge. Many teachers do not (thank goodness this is finally changing in some of the ed schools!!) TFA students are high energy and believe they can make a difference. With proper support they can and should. Sadly, I doubt they get this.

    Besides…if the most effective teachers will not teach the high poverty kids I would much rather have a TFA teacher in a classroom than a teacher that has no more experience than a traditional ed school. This is what is so sad…the most effective teachers are unwilling to work with the kids that need them the most!!

    Yes medical school requires a lot more education that teachers. However, what teachers have been calling a college education has been a flat out joke…not to say anything about the lack of quality of education talent so many teachers have when they enter ed school. Again, thank goodness the bar is being raised.

  3. Where did you go to ed school, tim-10? Remind me to avoid it.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    He is implying that med schools actually train students to be doctors but ed schools don’t really train their students to be teachers.

    I fear he is largely right, and that is a real disgrace.

  5. Amen, Roger. My ed school advisor said to me, directly and indirectly, that a. some people are just born teachers (ergo, there’s nothing I can do to help you), and b. you learn to teach by teaching (ergo, there’s nothing I can do to help you). Even he realized that his ed school did squat. The only thing ed schools do successfully is indoctrinate prospective teachers with the failed anti-curriculum, “child-centered” ideology.

    My ideal ed school would consist mostly of courses that went over the state standards or curriculum IN DEPTH. So, for example, if you were training to be an English teacher, you would study the grammar, rhetoric, poetry, novels and other literature we want our kids to learn, but in a super-thorough way and, of course, going beyond to more advanced level (e.g. learning about the evolution of rhetoric from the ancient Greeks through the Renaissance to today). Part of the assessment for these courses might be to create lesson plans to teach what you’ve just learned –in a way that would be intelligible to kids.

    Teacher preparation in America is an embarrassment. Japan trains teachers in a respectable and competent fashion.

  6. Homeschooling Granny says:

    The analogy between teaching and healing is flawed. That which is necessary to teach can be self-taught is a way that medical healing cannot.

  7. Ponderosa: that’s pretty much what the English part of my English Ed program taught. I did it as a graduate student, so I had to repeat the survey stuff I’d done about 10 years earlier as an undergrad, tested out of the grammar (I’d taken multiple courses in linguistics in a grad school before I’d moved — and worked as an editor), and took some helpful courses in the teaching of writing. The rhetoric I think I took as part of the humanities strand as an undergrad… I didn’t mind repeating the surveys too much because I figured I’d need to re-read it all anyway. And I like lit courses.

    tim: I’ve posted about it before, but the compensation system for teachers makes it too sacrificial to move around. Many experienced teachers would work in high poverty schools if they knew they could do so without taking a 25K/year pay cut either on their way in, or on their way out when burnout started to get to them.

  8. Sounds a lot like “Operate for America” which “provides low-income hospitals with college grads whose energy, enthusiasm, and youth will make up for their lack of qualifications and experience.”

    Operate for America has “minimized out-of-field doctoring and the use of ‘long-term substitute surgeons.” After years of “nuerosugery being performed by dermatogists” and “multiple cases of cardiac procedures being performed by podiatrist” it is an improvement to staff wards with substitute surgeons with five full weeks of intensive training.

    The entire study can be found at edtweak.org.

  9. Did I also mention the new protocal for drug trials has been patterned after educational research? From now on, attrition rates won’t be published, members of both the control groups getting placebos and the tested groups will be notified of their status, and it will be assumed that patients with placebos will get treatment on their own. These innovations are designed to faciltate endless debates with minimal interference by evidence.

    Again, check out edtweak.

  10. He is implying that med schools actually train students to be doctors but ed schools don’t really train their students to be teachers.

    I fear he is largely right, and that is a real disgrace.

    It may be a disgrace but it’s also a rational response to the situation.

    Since teaching skill isn’t valued by the public education system there’s no pay differential that results from graduating from the best ed school in the country versus graduating from any other including the lousiest. Ed schools don’t have to teach teaching so, largely, don’t.

  11. “Soon-to-graduate or recent graduates of our colleges would be selected following the guidelines of Teach for America—a college diploma from a four-year school, excellent grades, and recommendations from past professors and employers. A one- or two-year commitment would be required.”

    I think such graduates, with excellent grades, would do more for the long-term health of the country were they to become teachers. The primary barrier to becoming a doctor is long, complex, and thus expensive training. Unlike ed schools, however, the value of medical schools is not open to debate.

    Now, doctors themselves could benefit from some on-the-job nagging. Just appointing someone to the job of encouraging hand washing among medical personnel would do a great deal to improve patients’ health, particularly in hospitals. The Naggers could then investigate hospital kitchens (obesity). In order to improve patients’ health, patients need to be cared for by well-rested medical staffers, doctors, nurses, and orderlies. This calls for a reassessment of staffing decisions. Physician, heal thyself.

  12. “My ed school advisor said to me, directly and indirectly, that a. some people are just born teachers (ergo, there’s nothing I can do to help you), and b. you learn to teach by teaching (ergo, there’s nothing I can do to help you).”

    I think ponderosa is right, in fact, sometimes I feel like Teach For America is trying to trick people into being teachers. Let’s put you in a room with a bunch of kids, teach, and if you are good, maybe you will do it forever. Then again, I’m pretty sure TFA is grounded less in creating lifelong teachers (where other alt. certification programs such as the NYC teaching fellows cater more to that) and instead more focused on creating people who are dedicated to education change. TFA wants everyone to end up like Michelle Rhee, or in a position like hers at least. So when TFA teachers leave the class where do they go? The hope is into a field that supports/changes education for the better. Maybe that is more of the response HFA would be looking for, less shelling out big bucks and lots of time to go to med school but inspiring people to go into public health policy.


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