Med school enrollment up 28% since 2002, but residency slots may not be keeping pace

First-year enrollment at medical schools in the U.S. has gone up by 28 percent since 2002, but the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) has concerns there aren’t enough residency slots to keep pace.

The survey, conducted between Oct. 2016 and Jan. 2017, found first-year enrollment hit 21,030 students in 2016, up from 16,488 in 2002. The AAMC had hoped to hit a 30 percent increase by the 2015-16 academic year, but has now projected enrollment will reach that target in the next school year.

“The academic medicine community is doing all that it can to address the challenge presented by the looming physician shortage,” AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, said in a statement. “However, increasing medical school enrollment is just the first step in addressing the imminent national shortage of physicians.”

Some of the earlier steps included creating new medical schools. Since 2002, 22 new MD-granting schools, including the Central Florida College of Medicine and the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine, have been granted either full, provisional, or preliminary accreditation status. In addition, the number of DO-granting schools has increased by 13, leading to a 196 percent increase in first-year enrollment in DO programs since 2002.

In this survey, an additional threat is identified: a shortage of residency slots. 80 percent of medical school deans said they’re worried about the availability of graduate medical education nationwide, though only 39 percent said they’re concerned about their own students not being able to find a residency position, down from 50 percent in last year’s survey.

“The U.S. physician shortage is real and it’s significant,” Kirch said. “U.S. medical schools and teaching hospitals are doing their part to mitigate its potential effects on our growing and aging population. Now it’s up to Congress to provide for funding for residency training if we are to increase the overall supply of physicians and avert a serious shortage.”

Compounding these concerns is increased competition for clinical training sites. 80 percent of respondents said they’re worried about the number of sites, and half said they’re experiencing competition from DO-granting schools or other healthcare programs, like training for physician assistants. 59 percent said they’re feeling pressured to pay for training slots, though most do not, which is a jump from 44 percent who expressed that concern in 2015.

Other notable results in the survey include:

·         96 percent of respondents said they either have or plan to implement recruitment policies aimed at attracting a “diverse student body."

·         63 percent of the projected enrollment growth between 2002 and 2022 is expected to occur at public colleges, with 41 percent coming from schools in the South.

·         87 percent of schools said they’re worried about the supply of qualified primary care preceptors, and 73 percent said the same about specialty preceptors.

·         64 percent said their schools don’t pay for clinical rotations.