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Universities Invest in Medical Schools

For The Heights

Published: Thursday, February 25, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

A surplus in the demand for education in health services has created an increase in medical programs at U.S. universities.

The recent surge in the establishment of medical schools across the country is the largest one since the 1970s, according to a report by The New York Times. Twenty-four medical schools have either opened in the United States or are slated to open soon. This represents an 18 percent increase over the current 131 U.S. medical schools, if all of the proposed medical schools open as planned, according to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. In contrast, only one medical school opened during the 1980s and 1990s.

"We try to present an environment for [the students] to flourish," said Robert Wolff, director of the pre-medical and pre-dental programs at Boston College. No matter how qualified American pre-medical students are, it is extremely difficult for them to get into American medical schools, he said. In reality, many students are faced with the choice of leaving the medical field or studying medicine abroad.

Not only are American medical schools selective, but foreign schools are competitive as well, Wolff said. "Taking time off for a worldly experience to do something interesting and productive can make you a more attractive candidate," he said. The ratio of BC alumni to current undergraduates who apply to medical school is about 3-to-1.

Some new medical schools, such as the Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, PA, are independent institutions, while other proposed medical schools are associated with established universities, according to the Times report.

Hofstra University, for example, is teaming up with North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center. As of December 2009, New York Medical College has been affiliated with Touro College. Additionally, the University of California, Central Michigan University, and Rowan University are each looking to open their own medical schools.

Newly established medical schools are hoping to separate themselves from traditional medical schools by focusing on primary care needs in immigrant and disadvantaged communities. Quinnipiac University, in Hamden, CT, has a $75 million plan to enroll its first medical school class by the fall of 2013 or 2014. If it passes accreditation, the school would focus on primary care and global health care. Quinnipiac President John Lahey told the Times that he hopes to build off the University's existing health programs and to attract students who want to become doctors.

The new programs aim to address the growing need for doctors demanded by the expansion of the U.S. population, the impending retirement of nearly one third of current U.S. doctors, and the possible widening of congressional health care legislation that could incorporate as many as 30 million new patients.

While many medical schools in the United States have been increasing their enrollment, including the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, the number of doctors will not increase until more residency slots open up so that graduates may earn their medical licenses, according to the Times report. Wolff said that 45 to 50 percent of the physicians filling up medical residencies in U.S. hospitals today are foreign-trained.
Edward Salsberg, the director of the Center for Workforce Studies for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), told the Times that 3,500 more doctors will enter graduate training over the next decade. That number equals half of the 7,000 international medical school graduates who enter U.S. medical residency programs every year.

"We need to train more physicians in our country," Wolff said. "We need to encourage more men and women to go into primary care," he continued, citing a shortage of primary care employees in the United States.

An obvious advantage of the expansion of medical schools is that "strong men and women could get training in the U.S.," Wolff said. Supporters of the expansion say that an increase in the number of physicians would mean that more doctors could treat the needy rural and urban areas, which would result in lower medical-related costs. This move would reduce the time that people wait to see a doctor, according to the Times.

However, Wolff said, "Physicians do not tend to go to underrepresented or poorer areas," despite the fact that certain areas of the country still need more primary care. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants could be the inexpensive solution to the medical care void. "In terms of holding medical costs, physician assistants and nurse practitioners can work very effectively at much lower costs," he said.

The AAMC predicts a 30 percent increase in medical school enrollment to produce about 5,000 more doctors each year, according to the Times.

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