Med school applications peak
But funding shortfalls could cut residency posts
The news that medical schools fielded more first-time applications than ever in 2011 should be a positive sign, given that officials at the Association of American Medical Colleges had forecast a physician shortage in the next decade.
The AAMC released its annual numbers tracking medical school applications and enrollment last week. The data showed first-year applicants rose 2.6% in 2011 to a record-breaking 32,654, compared with 31,832 in 2010. Total applications increased by 1,178 in 2011. That’s a 2.8% increase, rising from 42,741 to 43,919.
However, Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, the AAMC president and CEO, tempered any enthusiasm over the findings on a conference call with reporters. He said federal cuts, including those to Medicare, could force hospitals to cut residency posts and would prevent them from adding any new ones. There may not be enough residencies for students, especially with 1 in 3 doctors retiring, Kirch said.
“The thing that determines the number of physicians—fully trained physicians—we have is residency training,” he said. “We need to continue—and in our view to grow—the support that Medicare provides for residency training so that we can ensure that these students coming in today will actually be able to complete their training. That’s going to be a key factor in the quality of the healthcare we all receive in the years to come.”
Concern over training opportunities remains despite new medical schools that are opening or that have opened, including Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.; Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, N.J.; and the University of South Carolina at Greenville.
Kirch said the new schools will allow for 7,000 more graduates each year within a decade compared with 2002.
The numbers also showed more minorities were applying with two exceptions: American Indian and Alaskan natives. Applications from that group dipped 8.7%. Applications from the Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders category fell by 16%.
The 379 American Indian applicants represent less than 1% of the total pool for 2011. The drop in American Indian applications, down from 415 in 2010, failed to surprise Margaret Knight, the executive director of Association of American Indian Physicians in Oklahoma City. Knight is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, an American Indian tribe based in New Mexico: “The kids are not aware of the potential to become physicians or have a career in healthcare.”
A lack of government funding has also hurt, Knight said. The federal government provides zero funding for programs to recruit future American Indian doctors, she said.
Kirch highlighted a 5.7% increase in applications from Latinos, from 3,271 to 3,459. According to the AAMC, applications from Latinos have increased by 22.9% since 2004.