A record number of people are going to medical school, according to the latest numbers from the Association of American Medical Colleges, but all those students could face a problem when they graduate: a lack of openings for residencies, which they typically need to become doctors.
Last fall, 20,343 students began their first year of medical school, more than in any other year, and up 23 percent from 2002, the AAMC reported last week. That should be welcome news for the doomsayers who have warned medical schools they need to enroll more students or face a shortage of physicians. Indeed, medical schools may close in on a goal of boosting enrollment by 30 percent from 2002 levels within a handful of years, the AAMC says.
Yet medical school graduates who want to become doctors must continue their studies in a residency program, typically three to seven years long, and the outlook for those residencies is getting dimmer. According to the AAMC's survey of 141 U.S. medical schools, 87 percent of deans are concerned about the number of clinical training sites available for graduates, up from 72 percent in 2010. And 71 percent of deans are concerned medical school enrollment will outpace the growth in graduate medical education.
“Without an increase in federally funded residency training positions, all these new medical school graduates may not be able to complete their training and become practicing physicians," AAMC President Darrell Kirch said in a statement.
Some believe there are enough physicians, but they're not being matched to the right jobs, while others, like Slate's Brian Palmer, note that Americans graduating from U.S. medical schools still generally fare well in finding residencies (graduates of foreign medical schools, not so much).
The AAMC maintains that Congress, which froze funding in 1997 for residencies, must funnel more money into graduate medical education to ensure doctor's offices and hospitals will stay fully staffed with physicians.