A recent Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions study found that 44 percent of the 85 top American medical schools surveyed are thinking about increasing the number of open spots for incoming medical students.
Of those schools, roughly 33 percent plan to increase enrollment up to 15 percent and roughly 10 percent plan to increase student enrollment by more than 25 percent. Many of these schools expect to implement these enrollment changes as early as fall 2009.
One factor for why medical schools are opening up more spots is the predicted national physician shortage by 2015.
“One of the most pressing medical issues that we‘re all going to have deal with is this looming shortage of physicians,“ said Russell Schaffer, senior communications manager for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions.
In 2006, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced that the combination of population increase, a doubling in the number of people over the age of 65 between 2000 and 2030, and the fact that one in every three active doctors is currently over the age of 55 and will likely retire by 2020 is going to seriously strain the health-care field unless medical schools increase enrollment by 30 percent.
“That really has been the goal of the AAMC,“ Schaffer said. “Given the looming crisis, they‘re looking to alleviate the crisis before it happens.“
An increase of 30 percent would create 5,000 more M.D. students annually to meet the healthcare needs of a changing population landscape.
The more specific issue with this healthcare shortage problem, however, is that fewer medical students are going into primary care, which provides most of the care for most citizens with common conditions.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, there is an alarming gap between the number of primary care physicians and subspecialists. A survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that only a mere two percent of medical students plan to make their career in primary care.
“Primary care is becoming less and less sought after as the ultimate goal for graduates in med school,“ said Stephen McCurdy, professor in the department of public health sciences and director of the masters in public health program at UC Davis. “Part of the reason is money. Medical school students graduate with a lot of debt and it turns out that primary care is not as well-compensated as specialty care.“
To address this problem, some schools, like UC Davis, are expanding their medical school enrollments, but only in one specific program that trains primary physicians to work in under-served areas. Rural-PRIME is a new program that opens up an additional 12 open spots into the UC Davis School of Medicine.
“It‘s for students who are interested in practicing medicine in a rural community and allows them to get a M.D. and masters degree in 5 years,“ said Edward Dagang, director of admissions in the UC Davis School of Medicine.
The overall number of medical school applicants has been rising steadily with an annual growth of up to eight percent since 2003. The general trend of enrollment has also gone up since 2003, with the exception of 2008, in which enrollment dropped by one percent.
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