U.S. Medical School Enrollment Up 28% Since 2002

Expanded Funding for Residency Positions Still Needed to Increase Overall Supply of U.S. Physicians

First-year enrollment at U.S. medical schools has increased by 28% since 2002, according to results of an annual survey released today by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).

The survey of deans indicates that first-year U.S. medical school enrollment reached 21,030 in 2016–2017. Twenty-two new medical schools have been established and accredited since 2002, accounting for nearly 40% of the enrollment growth.

The gains in enrollment are good news at a time when the nation faces an estimated shortage of nearly 105,000 physicians by 2030. However, gains in enrollment alone are not enough to address the projected shortage and increase the overall supply of doctors in the United States.  For that to occur, Congress must also increase federal support for residency training, as all physicians must complete at least one year of residency training before they can provide independent care for patients. Congress capped federal support for residency positions in 1997. Legislation that would provide a modest but important increase in the number of federally supported graduate medical education (GME) positions has recently been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The academic medicine community is doing all that it can to address the challenge presented by the looming physician shortage,” said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD. “However, increasing medical school enrollment is just the first step in addressing the imminent national shortage of physicians.”

In addition to increasing enrollment, U.S. medical schools and teaching hospitals are taking other actions to address the projected physician shortage, such as training new doctors to work in teams of health care professionals and leveraging technology, including electronic health records. Additionally, medical schools are working to graduate a more diverse physician workforce to care for tomorrow’s aging, diverse patient population. Almost all survey respondents (96%) indicated that they had or were planning specific programs or policies designed to recruit a diverse student body, up from 84% in 2015.

“The U.S. physician shortage is real and it’s significant. U.S. medical schools and teaching hospitals are doing their part to mitigate its potential effects on our growing and aging population. Now it’s up to Congress to provide for funding for residency training if we are to increase the overall supply of physicians and avert a serious shortage,” Kirch added.

Additional survey findings include:

  • Concern about the availability of residency positions remains high among medical school deans. While only 39% of respondents expressed concern about their own incoming students’ ability to find residency training positions when they graduate, 80% indicated concern about the availability of residency slots nationwide.
  • There has been a large increase in the percentage of medical schools experiencing competition for clinical training sites from other health care professional programs, from 26% in 2009 to 53% in 2016.

The report, Results of the 2016 Medical School Enrollment Survey, is available here

The Association of American Medical Colleges is a not-for-profit association dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research. Its members are all 154 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 80 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC serves the leaders of America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and their more than 173,000 full-time faculty members, 89,000 medical students, 129,000 resident physicians, and more than 60,000 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the biomedical sciences.