Even as U.S. medical schools expand and new ones are added to meet a looming shortage of physicians, the lack of new funding for residency training means hundreds each year will be kept from becoming doctors, according to the head of the group that represents the medical schools.
Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, will be the keynote speaker at the Hooding Ceremony today for Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University. Kirch is a former dean of MCG.
To meet a shortage of doctors, which is projected to reach 91,500 by 2020, the AAMC called on medical schools to expand enrollment by 30 percent. Many, like MCG, did and other universities added 15 new medical schools to push the number to 141 in the U.S., Kirch said. Enrollment will reach that 30 percent increase “within a year or two,” he said.
The problem is the number of residencies – paid for primarily by Medicare – has been capped since 1997, Kirch said. This year, that meant more than 400 U.S. students who will graduate medical school do not have a residency to go to where they can complete their training and become a doctor, Kirch said.
“That’s a tragedy,” he said.
Many will come back and try again next year and some will go on and complete another advanced degree “but they went to medical school to become a doctor,” Kirch said. There are currently three bills in Congress to increase the number of slots, but they are not going anywhere right now, Kirch said.
“The refusal of Congress to bring them to the floor and bring them to a vote is hurting,” he said. “There are lots of signs of the growing doctor shortage. General surgery, especially in rural areas like large parts of Georgia, has deep shortages.”
While saying he did not mean it as a political statement, as a physician Kirch said he would favor Medicaid expansion for states, which Georgia is refusing to do.
“The research shows if you have health insurance, you live longer, you have a better quality of life, and you cost the nation less,” he said. “So I don’t think any states should decline Medicaid. Not on political grounds. I think that as a physician because it will improve the health status of your state’s population.”
One good side effect of medical school expansion is it fosters innovation, like the team-based approach to teaching multiple health disciplines how to work together.
The new J. Harold Harrison MD Education Commons Building, which Kirch toured Wednesday, will include a new interdisciplinary simulator where medical students, nursing students and others can run cases together.
The AAMC got together with other health care academic organizations to establish common core competencies for interprofessional practice and education.
“We knew that people had to work well together, in an operating room, in a cardiac catheterization unit,” Kirch said. “We knew you needed teams but we literally trained people in isolation and plopped them together and said, ‘Be a team.’ ... Medicine is a team sport, it is not an individual sport. The thing that is exciting are the places like MCG that have been able, because they were doing construction, to do campus design to foster that interprofessionalism.”