2 states aim to boost med student enrollment

If Florida's Legislature approves funding, the state will be primed to open two new medical schools; in Oregon, a new branch campus is announced.

By Myrle Croasdale — Posted May 8, 2006

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Two states feeling the pinch of physician shortages are preparing to increase medical school enrollment. If all goes as planned, an extra 298 new physicians would graduate from medical school annually.

Florida's Board of Governors recently approved two new medical schools, contingent on several hundred million dollars from the state Legislature. Meanwhile, the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland announced in late March that it would open a satellite school in Eugene as well as expand enrollment at its Portland campus.

In Florida, the state Legislature is expected to consider budgeting for both schools during its 2007 budget process next spring. Funding for the schools is likely to be considered together, not separately.

If the money is approved, Florida International University in Miami would build a medical school that would begin with an initial 36 students in 2008, ultimately building up to 480 students, with 120 students per class. So far, the university has raised $78.5 million in private donations.

Including state dollars to match the private donations, FIU is seeking $125 million from state coffers to start the school and $20 million a year to operate.

An FIU spokeswoman said plans were under way to increase residency slots to accommodate at least some of the extra medical school graduates, but she said specifics were not yet available.

The University of Central Florida in Orlando also gained approval to create a medical school. If lawmakers approve money for the school, the first class of 120 students would begin in 2008. It will cost about $250 million to open the school and $20 million to operate it annually.

UCF has raised $100.3 million in pledges for the medical college, including guaranteed state matching funds and land donations. School officials also plan to add 95 new residency positions in the Florida Hospital and Orlando Regional Healthcare systems to accommodate new medical school graduates.

In Oregon, OHSU plans to open a satellite program in Eugene on the University of Oregon campus, with clinical work done at the PeaceHealth's Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene. This program is expected to cost $2.4 million annually. OHSU's Portland class will expand from 112 to 160 students over the next six years, with increases to start with the 2006-07 entering class.

The Eugene site is expected to have its first class in 2008-09.

A spokeswoman for OHSU said the institution did not have plans to expand residencies.

Florida's and Oregon's efforts follow the Assn. of American Medical Colleges' recommendation for a 15% increase in medical school enrollment to meet projected demands for physicians. Some say a 30% increase may be needed, and most who are for this expansion also support lifting the cap on Medicare payments for medical residencies.

Based on current expansion plans among allopathic and osteopathic medical schools, the AAMC estimates that by 2020 there will be an additional 30,000 physicians, creating a total of 1,002,000 active physicians in 2020. But some experts say schools need to produce 80,000 physicians by then to meet the expected patient demand in 2020.

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