Medical schools vary by nation and by culture but, for students, the experience appears to be very similar. Also, despite a half-century of radical changes in medical practice, education as a process of socialization for the profession is relatively unchanged. At the same time, medical educators have frequently instituted curricular reforms. To analyse this history of reform without change, this paper first establishes what the content and structure of medical education is, and how it came to be that way; second it traces a process whereby the scientific mission of academic medicine has crowded out its social responsibility to train for society's most basic health-care delivery needs. The main argument is that medical education's manifest humanistic mission is little more than a screen for the research mission that is the major thrust of the institution's social structure.