Med school enrollment up, but residency slots remain flat

A lack of growth in residencies could help fuel a physician shortage, AAMC officials say.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Nov. 11, 2009

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American allopathic medical schools enrolled 18,390 first-year students for 2009, a 2% increase from last year and a new high, according to the Assn. of American Medical Colleges.

Four new medical schools accounted for half of the 2009 increase: FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine in Miami; University of Central Florida College of Medicine in Orlando; The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, Pa.; and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso.

Of the other 127 AAMC-member schools, 57 increased the size of their first-year classes by more than 10%, according to the AAMC. The number of enrollees has grown steadily since 1999, when there were 16,221 first-year students.

Applicants to osteopathic medical schools also increased this year. Nearly 13,000 applicants competed for 5,100 available slots, according to the American Assn. of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. The increase of nearly 9% from the previous year set a record for the third straight year.

Although increases in medical school enrollment will help keep the pipeline of new physicians flowing, the number of residency training positions has not kept pace, AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, said during an Oct. 20 media briefing (link).

The number of residency positions must grow to provide trained physicians to meet increasing demand, Dr. Kirch said. Legislation supported by the American Medical Association and the AAMC has been introduced in Congress to increase residency slots. There are about 24,000 positions now.

Unfortunately, Dr. Kirch said, the health system reform measures before Congress do not address the issue. Instead, these measures propose redistributing about 1,000 unused residency training slots among a small number of states.

A lack of residency positions could help fuel a physician shortage, officials said. If currently uninsured people gain coverage with health system reform, the need for physicians will increase.

"In Massachusetts, it was only a short time before increased access to health care led to physician shortages," Dr. Kirch said. "As we move toward insuring more people nationwide, we may have similar problems."

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