Med School Enrollment Increasing, Schools Adapting to Address Physician Shortage

May 16, 2012, 1:25 PM

Enrollment at U.S. medical schools is growing, according to new data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The annual Medical School Enrollment Survey finds that first-year medical school enrollment is expected to reach 21,376 by 2016, an increase of 29.6 percent since 2002. Combined first-year MD and DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) enrollment—which has already increased by 28 percent since 2002—is projected to reach 26,709, an increase of 37 percent, by 2016.

Forty-three percent of the schools surveyed say they have plans to target—or have already targeted—specific populations that are underrepresented in medical schools, including minorities and people from disadvantaged backgrounds, rural and underserved communities. Among the tactics the schools are using: scholarships, modified or targeted admissions criteria and outreach efforts, and branch campus locations.

Medical schools are also using other approaches to increase their enrollment and quickly put physicians to work. At least four schools have recently begun offering programs that allow medical students to get degrees in three years, instead of four, American Medical News reports. In addition, a consortium of six schools has applied for a $23 million federal grant from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to expand the three-year model to more campuses.

Louisiana State University (LSU), for instance, is in the process of developing a three-year program at its Lafayette campus. The first class is expected to begin in 2014. Sam McClugage, PhD, LSU School of Medicine associate dean for admissions, told American Medical News that the accelerated curriculum is designed to encourage physicians to pursue primary care, “and then hopefully [go] into more underserved areas, such as rural communities, to practice medicine.”

“There are many of us in medical education who wonder about the need for the fourth year of medical school,” Robert Pallay, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Mercer University School of Medicine’s campus in Savannah, Ga., told American Medical News. “The issue here is, ‘What does society need?’ What our society needs right now is a significant increase in the number of family physicians.”

What do you think? Is the physician shortage still a concern or is the country’s medical education system on track to mend it? Are three-year programs for medical students a good idea? Register below to leave a comment.

Read more about the AAMC Medical School Enrollment Survey.

See the results of the survey.

Read the American Medical News story.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.