Medical schools see increased enrollment despite weak economy

AddThis

Medical schools across the country, including those within the UT System, have increased enrollment despite a tough economic climate, according to a report released last week.

First-year enrollment at medical schools has increased 13.2 percent since 2002, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which surveyed deans of 133 medical schools in 2010. Enrollment will likely reach a 30-percent increase by 2016, said Clese Erikson, the interim director of the association’s Center for Workforce Studies. The association called for schools to increase enrollments in 2006.

“Due to the growth and the aging of the population and the slower growth of the physician workforce, which is also aging, it became increasingly clear that we were going to face a shortage of physicians,” Erikson said.

The percentage of deans concerned that tough economic conditions will limit their ability to maintain or increase enrollment grew from 39 percent to 52 percent between 2009 and 2010. Erikson said the lingering effects of the recession could limit state and philanthropic funding for medical education.

The University of Texas Medical School at Houston has increased first-year enrollment from 207 to 240 since 2005, said Margaret McNeese, associate dean for admissions and student affairs. McNeese said she is not worried the economy will limit the school’s ability to enroll students.

“Our tuition rate in Texas is very, very low, and students all get loans that will cover their costs of tuition and living,” she said.

Erikson said the government capped Medicare funding for residency training programs in 1997 with the Balanced Budget Act. She said the federal government should increase funding to help residency programs grow at the same rate as medical school enrollment.

“You won’t actually increase the workforce if you don’t increase the number of residency training opportunities available to them, since that’s really the ultimate gateway into the practice of medicine,” she said.

Erikson said implementing the national health care reform bill Congress passed in 2010 will exacerbate the national physician shortage and will require increasing enrollments in medical school, as well as residency training programs and innovative approaches to medicine.

“One of the things that is talked about a lot as a potential solution is increased use of team-based medicine, where it’s not just physicians practicing alone, they’re in a whole cadre of clinicians,” she said.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has increased first-year enrollment from about 200 to 220 since 2000, said David Jones, senior associate dean for admissions.

Jones said he is not concerned about how the economy will impact the school’s ability to maintain enrollment. However, Jones said limited residency training opportunities in Texas do pose a challenge.

“Texas is training physicians or is educating physicians who ultimately leave — a significant portion of them leave to go do residency training elsewhere,” he said.