Medical School Enrollment on the Rise

More young Americans are deciding to become physicians during a tough jobs market, even though they tend not to choose the high-demand primary care.  American medical schools were pleased when they received a record number of applications in 2011.  Applicants increased by 1,178, or 2.8 percent, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).  Fully 43,919 men and women applied to U.S. medical schools this year, including 32,654 first-time applicants, according to the Washington, D.C.-based AAMC.  First-year enrollment increased by three percent to 19,230, a rise of 18,665 when compared with 2010.

A vital highlight is the larger number of African-American applicants, following a 0.2 percent decline in 2010.  Those numbers grew by 4.7 percent to 3,640 in 2011, while enrollees rose by 1.9 percent to 1,375.  The number of Hispanic/Latino applicants also grew by 5.7 percent to 3,459, with enrollment rising by 6.1 percent to 1,633.  Asians comprised 22.7 percent of the total applicant pool; applicants who identified themselves as white made up 62.3 percent of the total.

Meanwhile, first-time female applicants grew 3.3 percent to 15,953, while female enrollment increased by 3.2 percent to 9,037.  The number of first-time male applicants increased by 1.9 percent for a total of 16,698 applications with 10,193 enrollees, a 2.9 percent increase when compared with 2010.  AAMC said medical schools attract well-qualified applicants, noting their academic profiles included an average grade-point average of 3.5 and an MCAT score of 29.

“We are very pleased that medicine continues to be an attractive career choice at a time when our healthcare system faces many challenges, including a growing need for doctors coupled with a serious physician shortage in the near future,” said Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., AAMC president and CEO.  “At the same time the number of applicants is on the rise, we also are encouraged that the pool of medical school applicants and enrollees continues to be more diverse.  This diversity will be important as these new doctors go out into communities across the country to meet the health care needs of all Americans.

“U.S. medical schools have been responding to the nation’s health challenges by finding ways not only to select the right individuals for medicine, but also to educate and train more doctors for the future.  However, to increase the nation’s supply of physicians, the number of residency training positions at teaching hospitals must also increase to accommodate the growth in the number of students in U.S. medical schools.  We are very concerned that proposals to decrease federal support of graduate medical education will exacerbate the physician shortage, which is expected to reach 90,000 by 2020,” Kirch said.

Wait a minute!  The Council on Physician and Nurse Supply disagrees, noting that the U.S. will be short 200,000 physicians by 2020. “According to recent data, physician demand seems to be a real crisis,” said Onyx M.D. CEO and Chairman Robert Moghim, M.D.  “Not only is the overall physician shortage a major problem but certain specialties will be hit harder than others, especially primary-care specialists.”

In fact, the AMA announced that the number of primary-care physicians (PCPs) could decrease by 35,000 to 40,000 by 2025.  Apparently PCPs are becoming increasingly frustrated in many areas of their practice.  “Dealing with third-party payers, governmental red tape, slowness in receiving reimbursement and increased time spent with non-clinical paperwork seems to be driving this discontent,” said Monty McKentry, VP of Client Services & Recruitment at Onyx M.D.  He notes that, “These factors may be the cause of the newly reported data from the Journal of the American Medical Association that only two percent of current medical students intend to go into primary care.”

To make this situation even worse, there is a growing concern that one new physician entering the work force may not equal the productivity of a retiring physician.  This can be attributed to a cultural shift to a better work-life balance, shorter working hours and increased demand for more part-time work.  With the anticipated shortage in primary-care physicians, demand will increase for short-term coverage or locum tenens (a place-holder).  “We anticipate a wide variety of new opportunities as primary care physicians look for other alternatives such as locum tenens, Moghim said.”

Finally, Kirch highlighted programs that provide scholarships and loan forgiveness in exchange for working as general practitioners in the nation’s underserved areas.  According to Kirch, more funding is needed for these programs, and payments to primary-care physicians for services should be increased.

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