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U.S. doctor shortage will get worse unless Congress ups funds

May 11, 2013 at 5:50 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, May 11 (UPI) -- U.S. medical schools are set to increase enrollment by 30 percent by 2017, but experts say it won't help if Congress doesn't increase the number of residencies.

The annual Medical School Enrollment Survey conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges Center for Workforce Studies said first-year medical school enrollment was projected to reach 21,434 in 2017-18 -- a 30 percent increase above first-year enrollment in 2002-03.

"We're pleased to see our nation's medical schools increasing enrollment to address the projected physician shortage," Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, president of the AAMC, said in a statement. "But, Congress now needs to do its part and act quickly to increase the number of federally funded residency training positions in order for all medical school graduates to be able to complete their training and become practicing physicians."

Medicare funds most residencies and the taxpayer funds $9.5 billion per year to subsidize 94,000 positions at teaching hospitals, while Medicaid and other sources fund another 10,000 residencies, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 froze the number of Medicare-funded spots, while the American Medical Association and other physician said the U.S. population has grown by 50 million people since 1997.

The Association of American Medical Colleges forecast there will be a shortage of 62,900 U.S. doctors by 2015.

The AAMC survey also found 40 percent of the medical school deans surveyed expressed major concern about enrollment growth outpacing growth in the number of available residency training positions.

"Increasing enrollments show that medical schools are doing their part to avert the shortage of more than 90,000 primary care and specialty doctors this nation faces by 2020," Kirch said. "However, this will not result in a single new practicing physician unless Congress acts now to lift the cap on residency training positions."

Reps. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., and Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., introduced The Training Tomorrow's Doctors Today Act to ensure there will be an adequate physician workforce prepared to meet the health needs of the American population. The legislation creates 15,000 new slots around the country over five years -- at a cost of $1 billion per year. The bill has not moved in the House.

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