Med schools report record-breaking numbers

The number of first-year medical students exceeded 20,000 for the first time, the Association of American Medical Colleges said in its annual report on medical school enrollment applications, with a total of 20,055 students enrolled in 2013 programs.

In addition, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, reports 6,449 first-year students at osteopathic medical colleges this year, an 11.1 percent increase.

With record numbers under their belts, the organizations increased their pleas for Congress to provide more money for graduate medical education and funding residency training slots to handle the newly minted doctors, MedPage Today reported.

Other increases include a:

  • 2.8 percent jump in first-time medical school enrollment this year and a 21.6 percent increase since 2002--an increase attributed to four medical schools opening their doors this year and an additional 14 increasing their class sizes by more than 10 percent;
  • 6.1 percent increase to 48,014 in total medical school applications this year;
  • 5.8 percent increase in first-time applicants;
  • 6.9 percent increase in first-time female applicants after remaining flat in 2012; and 
  • 5.5 percent increase in Hispanic attendance at medical schools.

Furthermore, osteopathic medical schools saw a 4.9 percent jump in enrollment over 2012, growing to more than 22,000 students with new osteopathic medical schools opening in Alabama, North Carolina and Indiana, according to MedPage Today.

But the increase in enrollment will mean little in the fight to ease the nation's physician shortage unless teaching hospitals have a greater ability to train physicians, AAMC and AACOM said. The AAMC projects a shortage of more than 90,000 doctors by 2020.

"Unless Congress lifts the 16-year-old cap on federal support for residency training, we will still face a shortfall of physicians across dozens of specialties," said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D, in an AAMC statement. "Students are doing their part by applying to medical school in record numbers. Medical schools are doing their part by expanding enrollment. Now Congress needs to do its part and act without delay to expand residency training to ensure that everyone who needs a doctor has access to one."

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 limited the number of residencies Medicare would support. But seeing the pending shortage of physicians coming, the AAMC pleaded with its members in 2006 to increase its enrollment, which was mostly flat between 1980 and 2006, MedPage Today reported. 

Without more Medicare-supported physician training residency slots, not all medical school graduates will be able to complete their training and begin practicing medicine, FierceHealthcare previously reported. 

With 26,504 medical students starting in 2013 between osteopathic and allopathic medical schools, only 26,392 first-year residency slots existed in 2013, said Atul Grover, M.D., Ph.D., chief public policy officer at AAMC.

Legislation is pending in both chambers--H.R. 1201 and S. 577--that would increase the number of residency slots Medicare would support by 15,000 over five years. The legislation would cost about $9 billion over 10 years, Grover said, according to MedPage Today.

It costs about $145,000 a year to train a physician, but Medicare supports only about $3.2 billion annually of the roughly $15 billion it takes to train physicians nationwide.

For more:
- here's the MedPage Today article
- check out the AAMC's announcement
- see the AAMC's enrollment charts (.pdf)