On Friday, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) announced that a record number of students applied to American medical schools in 2013 and that a record number of first-year students has enrolled in medical schools this year. Experts say that’s an encouraging sign in the face of a primary care doctor shortage that will likely be exacerbated by an influx of newly insured Americans seeking medical treatment as the Affordable Care Act goes into effect.
“At a time when the nation faces a shortage of more than 90,000 doctors by the end of the decade and millions are gaining access to health insurance, we are very glad that more students than ever want to become physicians,” said AAMC president Dr. Darrell G. Kirch in a press release.
A total of 48,014 students applied to medical schools in 2013, surpassing the previous record that was set in 1996. The number of students enrolled as first-year students also rose above 20,000 for the first time ever. AAMC officials lauded the results, while warning they would do little good unless those students can also get into residency programs upon graduation. Medical residency programs are so over-crowded that over 1,000 medical students were not paired with one after graduating this year — and fixing that shortfall requires Congressional action.
“[U]nless 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,” wrote Kirch. “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.”
Still, the numbers represent an encouraging trend, especially paired with the fact that an increasing number of medical students are choosing to become family and primary care doctors. Those are the types of doctors who provide the most comprehensive and wide-ranging form of medical care, and they will be the ones most needed to address newly-insured Americans.
In 2009, only 58 percent of U.S. medical school graduates chose residencies in family medicine — but in August, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) announced that more than 67 percent of first-year family medicine residents graduate from American medical schools today.
“This is another indicator that medical students realize primary care is the foundation of health care,” said Dr. Perry Pugno, vice president for medical education at AAFP, in a statement at the time. “The number of students choosing family medicine… continues to increase, and the attendance at the AAFP’s National Conference for Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students has really increased. All of these point to a trend toward primary care careers.”