A Cure for the Doctor Shortage

Sept. 2, 2013

Imagine you spend 4 years and put yourself in debt to obtain your undergraduate degree. During this time you are also doing research, volunteer work, long hours of studying, and taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Then you make your way through medical school applications and are one of the lucky 40% of applicants that gets admitted. Then you put yourself through 4 difficult years of medical school and burden yourself with massive debt ($170,000 on average), only to find out that you don’t have a job! This seems ridiculous, but it is becoming a reality.

This year 528 U.S. MD medical graduates did not match into a residency, which is more than double the number from last year. Including DO and foreign medical graduates, there were about 1700 that did not match into a residency!

Graduate Medical Education (GME) provides medical school graduates, or residents, the opportunity to complete the required years of clinical training necessary to obtain a medical license and become a practicing physician. President Obama's 2014 budget includes an $11 billion cut to GME over the next decade! Pediatric residencies are funded separately, and Obama's budget includes a reduction from $265 million to $88 million in 2014! GME has already been cut 2% due to the sequestration, which equates to about 2000 residency positions out of the current 100,000 funded residency slots (a cap set by Congress in 1997).

These funding cuts are intolerable because of the massive physician shortage this country faces. It is estimated that our current physician shortage is 16,000, and this is projected to increase to 62,900 by 2015. Additionally, there are about 30 million Americans that will be entering the health care system in the next few years under the Affordable Care Act, so cuts to federal funding for residency programs will only worsen physician shortages. The country has started to address this shortage by increasing the number of medical students; however, there has not been an increase in residents, so the problem persists.

Congress can help alleviate this problem by doing two things: (1) retaining federal funding for GME, and (2) raising or eliminating the annual cap on the number of residents each year (currently 100,000). We need these changes in order to protect our most vulnerable Americans.

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