Facing Shortage, We Can’t Just Pull Doctors out of a Hat

Cecil B. Wilson, MD, American Medical News, January 10, 2011

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The shortages

Here’s how it currently stacks up:

* We anticipate a deficiency of at least 125,000 physicians by 2025.

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* There still is a primary care shortage–at least partially because pay differentials for primary care physicians make it even more difficult to repay medical school debts, which average $155,000.

* We see an even larger shortage in the Hispanic, black and other minority communities–partly because of high medical school costs but also because there are few role models for those kids.

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Medical education and training

Although medical school tuition remains a huge stumbling block, especially for minorities, first-year medical students are on the increase–predicted to be up 21% by 2013 over 2009. Many programs are growing; moreover, nearly two dozen new medical schools have opened, sought accreditation or been announced in the past three years.

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Increasing minority physicians

Underrepresented minorities in the ranks of physicians–only 6% compared with 30% of the overall population–is another problem that will only grow as our current minority groups swell to dominate the population by 2050.

On the upside, the AAMC has a major initiative to increase minority enrollment.

Since 2002 the AMA has sponsored Doctors Back to School, a mentoring program that sends minority physicians into schools to share their stories, serve as role models and raise awareness about the need for more minorities in medicine. In 2010, nearly 250 physicians participated. The AMA Foundation is one of many organizations that offer scholarships to minority medical students.

Individual medical schools also have initiatives to encourage minority physicians. Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., sponsors a summer program designed to encourage black, Hispanic and Native American high school and college students to pursue medical careers. In Illinois, the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine’s Academic Medicine Program helps disadvantaged college students get the credentials needed for medical school applications.

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