AAMC report says 30% med school enrollment hike is not enough

The projected shortage of physicians is about 150,000. Officials are urging changes such as more residency slots.

By Brian Hedger — Posted Dec. 29, 2008

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Attempting to combat a projected physician shortage, the Assn. of American Medical Colleges set a goal in 2006 to increase first-year enrollment 30% by 2015.

A report released by the AAMC in November said that even if the plateau is reached, it still won't be enough to avert a work force shortage.

First-year enrollment at U.S. allopathic medical schools is the highest ever this year, but enrollment is still off pace, by a year or two, to reach the 30% goal, said Edward Salsberg, report co-author and director of the AAMC's Center for Workforce Studies.

The report, "The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections Through 2025," estimates that the shortfall will be more than 150,000 doctors and impact all specialties. In June, the AAMC had estimated a shortfall of 70,000 doctors by 2025.

"I was a little surprised at how big the gap was that would still exist, even with the enrollment increase," Salsberg said. "The demand is really being driven by a number of factors, particularly the growth of U.S. population combined with the aging of the population."

The number of first-year students enrolled at allopathic medical schools reached a new record of 18,036 this year. That's up 1.6% from last year's 17,759 and continues a trend, started in 1999, of increasing enrollment for first-year students, according to AAMC data released in October.

But to lessen the impact of a physician shortage, the November report recommends changes in how health care is administered and delivered, plus an expansion in residency training slots. Improved efficiency, redesigning how services are provided and making better use of physicians' time also were recommended.

Salsberg said the projected shortfall by 2025 still could change, depending on several factors.

The ailing economy might slow or halt expansion of current and planned medical schools, also denting supply. Expansion of graduate medical education might not happen.

"I don't have a crystal ball," Salsberg said. "The reality is [that] under almost every scenario we looked at, there's likely to be a shortage."

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