Medical School Enrollment Up, Concern for Residency Slots High

Megan Brooks

May 23, 2018

Enrollment in US medical schools continues to grow, but medical school deans worry about enrollment growth outpacing available residency slots, according the latest data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

First-year enrollment in US medical schools is up 29% since 2002-2003, and 30% growth will be achieved this year (2018-2019), according to results of the 2017 Medical School Enrollment Survey, the AAMC's annual survey of US medical school deans.

In 2006, because of concerns of a likely future physician shortage, the AAMC recommended a 30% increase in first-year medical school enrollment by the 2015-2016 academic year, relative to 2002-2003 levels. Using as a baseline the 2002-2003 first-year enrollment of 16,488 students, a 30% increase corresponds to an increase of 4946 students. That goal will be met this year and will be exceeded in future years, the AAMC says.

But concern about the availability of graduate medical education (GME) opportunities at the state and national levels runs high.

Forty-four percent of medical school deans are concerned about their own incoming students' ability to find residency positions of their choice after medical school. Nearly two thirds (64%) worry about the availability of residency slots in their own state, and 78% express concern about the availability nationally.

"Concern about GME availability at the state and national levels remained high in 2017 compared with 2015 and 2016, but it is down from the peak in 2013," the AAMC says.

The survey also shows that the majority (85%) of medical school deans are concerned about the number of clinical training sites; 89% expressed concern about the supply of qualified primary care educators; and 67% were concerned about the supply of qualified specialty instructors. Forty-six percent of survey respondents reported feeling pressure to pay for clinical training slots, though 59% of schools currently do not pay for clinical training.

Increased Completion

In addition, most medical school deans report competition from DO-granting schools (54%) and other professional healthcare programs (58%), which is a substantial increase from about one quarter in 2009.

The latest survey data also confirm that enrollment at DO-granting schools continues to skyrocket. In 2017-2018, 8088 first-year students enrolled at DO-granting schools, a 163% increase from 2002-2003, during which period 3079 first-year students enrolled. Combined first-year enrollment at existing MD-granting and DO-granting schools increased by 9859 students, a 50% increase compared with 2002-2003.

Earlier this year, the American Osteopathic Association reported that the number of osteopathic medical students in the United States grew 85% in the past 10 years.

The 2017 AAMC survey shows that medical schools are working to increase diversity in their student body. Virtually all (99%) medical school deans reported that they had or were planning to have within 2 years programs or policies to recruit a diverse student body.

The majority of schools had established or expected to establish programs/policies geared toward minorities underrepresented in medicine, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and students from underserved communities. A variety of approaches are being used to boost diversity, with a focus on outreach at high schools and local universities and admission strategies such as holistic review.

The AAMC says the goal of their annual survey of medical school deans is to inform the academic medicine community, researchers, and policy makers about trends and issues related to US medical school enrollment. This most recent survey was conducted between November 2017 and March 2018.

The full report is available online.

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