Physician shortage: Medical graduates who miss out on residency add to the problem

By Matt Kuhrt

American medical schools have responded to the looming physician shortage by enrolling and graduating more medical students. But turning those graduates into licensed physicians who practice in areas experiencing high levels of need has turned out to be another issue entirely, according to an article in The Conversation.

Last year a mere 26,252 of the 52,860 medical graduates who applied for residency positions in the United States got matched to a program. Despite calls for further investment in residency programs, the American Medical College expects the gap between physician supply and demand to grow to between 46,000 and 90,000 by the year 2025. This has Richard Gunderman, chancellor's professor of medicine, liberal arts, and philanthropy at Indiana University, wondering whether the industry can afford to leave so many unmatched graduates out of practice.

The effect of the shortage is uneven across the healthcare industry: it has hit rural areas particularly hard, and has put the squeeze on highly qualified international graduates, for whom residency spots were limited to begin with, FiercePracticeManagement previously reported. But Gunderman writes in The Conversation that many of the unlicensed physicians who fail to get a residency slot are not only willing, but enthusiastic about working with patients in underserved areas.

One possibility involves extending an opportunity for licensure to doctors who undertake this kind of work, an experiment Missouri has undertaken already, with Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma considering similar measures, according to the article. While programs aimed at expanding the scope of practice allowed by non-physicians in rural areas aren't a new phenomenon, individuals like Heidi Schmidt, M.D., acknowledge the difficulty of advocating for an alternative to conventional licensure. "If we could earn our licenses caring for people who currently cannot find a physician, we could make a huge difference," she told Gunderman, "and many of us would commit to continuing to serve needy populations for years to come."

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