Medical schools consider expanding to help fill physicians shortage

By Alissa Groeninger

To Rene Camarena, becoming a doctor is a chance to help people.

“It’s really gratifying to see someone in need and be able to take care of them,” Camarena, junior in LAS, said. “It makes you feel like an actual human being.”

While he is getting ready to apply to schools, Camarena worries that many people are in danger of being underserved and not receiving health care.

Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions announced that 44 percent of the 85 schools that responded to a survey are considering expanding the size of their medical school classes. The survey, which was conducted by Kaplan in July 2008, was designed to see how schools (there are around 120 medical schools in the United States) are responding to a predicted shortage of doctors.

“Everybody’s talking about the doctors shortage they expect to see,” said Amjed Mustafa, Kaplan’s director of pre-health programs. “The idea (of the survey) was to try to figure out how medical schools are dealing with the crisis.”

The Council on Physician and Nurse Supply, which serves to present ways to meet the demand for medical professionals, said that by 2020 the United States may lack a necessary 200,000 doctors and 800,000 nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that more than 25 percent of the current physician workforce will be retired by 2014.

“We need more people trained out there,” said Elliott Brea, junior in LAS, who will be applying to medical schools.

In 2000, there were 35 million people over the age of 65. In 2030, that number will jump to 70 million, Mustafa added.

“The fact that we are doubling the elderly population means that medical care is going to increase exponentially,” Mustafa said.

Many medical schools are expanding in order to help produce more physicians. New medical schools are also being built.

Associate dean and director of admissions for the University of Illinois at Chicago medical school, Jorge Girotti, said in an e-mail that while the University of Illinois medical schools thought about expanding, they decided it was not sensible without additional financial resources.

“While there is a general feeling that the need exists for more physicians, without additional financial resources it would be impossible to offer a quality education,” Girotti said.

About one-third of the schools that said they hope to expand are looking to do so by accepting 5-15 percent more students. About 18 percent of the schools are looking to expand by 15 percent or more.

“Everyone’s trying to solve this one problem,” Mustafa said. “Everybody’s talking about how to get more qualified people into medical schools.”

While the survey’s findings seem promising, Mustafa said it is important to realize that the number of medical schools applicants has increased in the last few years. Medical schools admissions remains extremely competitive, Mustafa said.

Karen Paulsen, associate director of the Career Center and pre-medical advisor at the University, said most schools are only adding a small percentage of spots in their medical schools classes.

“It’s very hard … The process is not for the faint of heart,” Brea said.

The University’s medical school (including all campuses) averages 6,500 applicants, and 600 are extended an offer of admission.

Mustafa attributed the increase in applicants to an increased number of students graduating from college and the economic downturn. Graduate, medical and law schools become more desirable during difficult economic times, according to another Kaplan survey released in 2008.

“Students will still have to consider being very competitive,” Paulsen said. “They could fill that class (at the University of Illinois at Chicago) many times over with competent students.”