Richard Gunderman – Facing a physician shortage, can we leave medical school grads on the sidelines?

Dr. Heidi Schmidt cannot practice medicine. The problem is not that she lost her license or was named in too many malpractice lawsuits. To the contrary, she has never held a license to practice medicine. Yet she has earned not only an M.D. but also master’s degrees in public health and pharmacy, passed all the licensing exams required of medical students and devoted countless hours of voluntary service to underserved populations.

And she is not alone – many medical school graduates like her cannot obtain a license. Last year, 52,860 U.S. and international medical graduates applied for residency positions in the U.S., yet only 26,252 actually matched into a program.

The painful irony is that the U.S. now faces a substantial shortage of physicians, which is on track to worsen in the decades to come. Increased demand for physicians is driven by advances in medical science and technology, population growth and an aging population that uses more medical care. A study by the Association of American Medical College predicts that by 2025, the U.S. will face a shortfall of between 46,000 and 90,000 physicians.

The situation is growing worse by the year, because U.S. medical schools have increased enrollments by nearly 30 percent in recent years, while the number of residency positions has increased to a much smaller degree.

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