Record Number of Med Students, but More Needed to Help Physician Shortage

Joanna Broder

October 29, 2013

AAMC Calls for US to Fund More Residencies

"[I]f things continue with the rate they are, at some point in the next 2 years it's likely that MDs will surpass the number of available [residency] slots," he said.

Dr. Kirch added that students know about federal residency caps. Medical students are "some of the strongest advocates, telling Congress this is not a place where inaction and kicking the can down the road serves the nation at all."

The nation faces a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by the end of the decade, according to an AAMC press release, and 60,000 as early as 2015, Atul Grover, MD, AAMC's chief public policy analyst, said in a telephone interview. Meanwhile, there are currently spot shortages of physicians in rural areas and underserved, urban areas, he noted.

Dr. Kirch said there are bills in front of both houses of Congress now to raise the cap and provide more residency slots, but if those do not pass, the physician shortage could become real.

"What we're really asking for is for the federal government to resume paying its fair share of the cost of the training," Dr. Grover specified.

He called for Medicare to contribute a billion dollars a year to train an additional 4000 residents and to help provide the other unique clinical services only available at teaching hospitals.

Medicare contributes a small portion of funding for graduate medical education. Most of the funding comes from revenue of faculty, teaching hospitals, and health systems, along with some revenue from the Veterans Administration, the US Public Health Service, and Medicaid, Dr. Grover said.

"Four thousand physicians a year could go a great distance toward alleviating the shortage," Dr. Kirch said.

Congress will have to act sooner or later, he said. "What we want is to spare the country from the pain and the dislocation of acting later rather than sooner, but failure is not an option for each and every one of us as patients."

In 2006, predicting an impending physician shortage, the AAMC called for increasing US medical school enrollment by 30% by 2020.

Dr. Kirch said that the nation is on track to meet the 30% increased enrollment goal by 2017. Medical schools have stepped up their efforts to accommodate training more students. In addition, 4 new medical schools opened their doors in 2013, including Central Michigan University College of Medicine, Mt. Pleasant; University of California, Riverside, School of Medicine; University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix; and the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, North Haven, Connecticut.

"But this will not, not, not alleviate the doctor shortage unless we have a corresponding increase in residency training positions," Dr. Kirch said.


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