ASCO Focuses on Physician Workforce Shortage at Capitol Hill Briefing

Posted November 1, 2013

ASCO recently participated in a Congressional briefing that focused on the impact of physician workforce shortages, anticipated to reach a total shortfall across all specialties of 91,500 doctors by 2020. The briefing, organized by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), highlighted how shortages may continue due to a lack of expansion in fellowship training spots and the increased patient demand that is expected as more people age into Medicare and new enrollees receive health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

During the briefing, AAMC described new report data on medical school applicants and enrollees for 2013. ASCO discussed its 2007 workforce study that anticipates a shortage of 2,550-4,080 oncologists by 2020 and previewed upcoming data on oncologist burnout and an updated study that projects shortages into 2025. The oncologist shortages are driven by increases in cancer incidence and survivorship. On the supply side, many oncologists are nearing retirement age while there are little to no increases in oncology fellowships. 

The new AAMC report details a record number of student applications and enrollments in the nation’s medical schools in 2013. The total number of medical school applicants grew by 6.1 percent to 48,014, surpassing the previous record set in 1996 by 1,049 students. First-time applications increased by 5.8 percent to 35,727. The number of students enrolled in their first year of medical school exceeded 20,000 for the first time (20,055), a 2.8 percent increase over 2012.

Although medical school enrollments have increased, Medicare support for residencies was capped in 1997, effectively curtailing growth in the number of residencies. Current medical school graduates are having difficulty obtaining a resident slot through the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP). After the 2013 matching process, more than 500 medical school graduates were without residency program placements for the current training year. More than 60 specialty societies, state medical societies and hospital organizations have called for the Medicare caps to be lifted, but policy makers have not been persuaded. Instead, the budget reconciliation process has targeted decreases in the support for graduate medical education. This “bottleneck” will continue to worsen as increased numbers of medical students are unable to be placed in residencies and fellowships.

The AAMC report also highlighted the quality and diversity of students applying to and enrolling in medical school. For more information, please click here.



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