This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

November 18, 2009

Addressing Physician Shortages

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), 250,000 active physicians will retire by 2020. Addressing this shortfall will be a daunting task.

Fortunately for the United States, medical school enrollment has reached a record high. A recently released study conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports that enrollment in 2008 increased 1.6 percent over the previous year, resulting in a record-high 18,036 first-year medical students. The study found that the total number of applicants reached 42,315, and the almost 32,000 first-time applicants was also a record high.

Remarkably, the number of first-year Hispanic medical students increased by 10 percent, while African Americans made up 7.2 percent of new students---the same rate as the previous year. Moreover, according to the "Arkansas Democrat-Gazette", since 2003, first-year enrollment has increased by 10 percent or more in 49 US medical schools.

Darrell Kirch, AAMC's CEO, believes the growth to a higher capacity at medical schools is related to the establishment of new branch campuses across the country. In addition, the increase in positive portrayals of physicians in popular culture, including in television show, like "Grey's Anatomy", "House", and "Mercy" has happily had an affirmative effect on young people wanting to join these professions.

Dan Scheirer, associate dean at Duke University's Trinity College, said the Iraq war and the September 11 attacks have affected applicants' views of the world. Applicants "are in a world that is changing and scary and unstable and they see medicine as a stable career", Scheirer added, "It is a way of working out anxiety and doing something for the benefit of mankind".

In another attempt to address the shortages, the US Congress is considering legislation that could worsen the current brain drain of doctors and nurses from poor countries. Global health advocates believe the worst affected will be African countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, and Uganda. Domestic workforce development would be a better, though longer-term, approach.

Clearly, there is an urgent need to promote the physician professions to young people worldwide, because even with increasing enrollments, physician shortages will have devastating consequences on humanity.


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