Attendance on rise for medical schools

An influx of new medical students could help solve the physician shortage.

by Mike Rose

Medical schools across the country are becoming as popular as television doctor dramas, which could help revitalize the real doctor market.

The 2007 national medical school entering class was the largest ever recorded by the Association of American Medical Colleges, according to data released Oct. 16.

The University’s medical school contributed to the trend by increasing enrollment 10 percent – the 11th largest gain nationally.

Overall, the growth of medical schools could help solve a physician shortage, medical experts said.

“The interest in medicine runs very strong in our country,” AAMC President Dr. Darrell Kirch said in a conference call last month. “These trends are important because our country faces a serious shortage of doctors becoming very acute within the next 10 to 15 years.”

According to the AAMC, there are currently 407 people for every one physician in the country. Minnesota is slightly above the average and ranks 18th among all states.

Dr. Robert Jones, senior vice president for medical school services and studies at AAMC, said a fast-growing population could make this ratio even more lopsided within a few years.

“If you look at the number of physicians we’re producing Ö we’re not going to meet the number we need to provide all the services,” he said.

Jones said this year’s class came at a good time because of the increasing ratio. Nationally, there were 17,759 first-year enrollees in medical schools this year, up by about 400 students from 2006. Since 2002, enrollment has increased every year.

At the University, first-year enrollment increased from 165 to 183. Michigan State, which opened a new campus during this span, increased medical school enrollment by more than 47 percent and showed the largest increase of any university.

The increase, however, might not be permanent at the University. This year’s large enrollment was due to an above-average number of students taking the school’s acceptance offers, officials said. Whether the school decides to return to a 165-student level is still to be determined.

“It’s just too early to know,” Kathleen Watson, associate dean for students at the medical school, said. “We’re investigating for our current size.”

In Minnesota, the doctor shortage is more of a distribution problem, Watson said.

According to Minnesota Department of Health data, shortages of medical professionals occur primarily in rural areas in Northern and Southwestern Minnesota.

University medical school admissions director Paul White said the Duluth campus is designed specifically to address rural medicine. He added that the Rural Physicians Associate Program provides further incentive to study medicine in rural areas.

“It’s been a focus of the school for years,” White said.

Linnea Engel, a second-year Medical School student, said she was aware of shortages in some rural areas. Sometimes rural hospitals attract young doctors by offering to pay off loans or house payments, she said.

“There are a lot of incentives being offered,” Engel said.

Travis Dunn, a first-year Medical School student, said the national shortage was familiar to him but that it did not ultimately influence his decision to enter medical school.

“I just wanted to be a doctor for quite a while,” he said.