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Medical School Enrollment Forecast Tempered by Residency Concerns

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, May 6, 2013

The insufficient number of residency slots means that some unlucky medical school seniors will graduate deeply mired in student loan debts but with nowhere to go. " You cannot practice medicine in the U.S. unless you complete a US residency training program," Mitchell says. "In fact, this year already we started to see a few students not match to residency position because there simply weren't enough."

The cost of medical residencies varies greatly depending upon the specialty, but Mitchell says the "back of the envelope" average is about $150,000 per residency slot. AAMC has recommended a 15% increase in the number of residency slots over the next decade, which would cost about $9 billion.

Unfortunately, Mitchell says, there is little support for the funding among federal elected officials.

"It is going to be an enormous challenge," she says. "In fact what we worry about most of all now is that not only are Congress and the White House not very interested in spending more money on graduate medical education, all of their deficit reduction proposals, Republicans and Democrats, Congress and the White House, have all put in cuts in current support. It is contradictory to efforts to make sure that there are enough doctors for Medicare beneficiaries and all of the folks who are getting coverage under healthcare reform. It's not consistent."

A breakdown of the survey found that 62% of the enrollment growth will occur in the 125 medical schools that were accredited as of 2002, 31% will occur in schools accredited since 2002, and 7% will come from schools that are currently applicant or candidate schools with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. Fifty-five percent of the 4,946 new positions projected by 2017 are expected to come from public medical schools, with the greatest growth occurring in the South, where schools account for a 46% of the increase between 2002 and 2017.

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