With an increase in Texas medical schools and a static number of residency spots, students could face a greater possibility of having to go out of state to become doctors.
Students pursuing a medical degree must attend medical school for four years, and after that, they must participate in a residency program for three to five years where they will learn to practice. Specialty training can last an additional three years.
In the last few years, the number of students applying to medical schools has grown at an unprecedented rate. To accommodate the rise – and to improve local economies and healthcare systems – Texas has funded the construction of a handful of new medical schools. Some of these new campuses are in the Rio Grande Valley and Austin while proposals have been made for schools in The Woodlands, Houston and Fort Worth.
This is good in the short term, but could be a problem in the long run because the state is not funding more residency spots in hospitals.
“If you have medical school grads and you don’t have these residency positions, then you’re just really investing in a flow that’s going to go somewhere else,” said Maureen Milligan, president and CEO of Teaching Hospitals of Texas, in The Monitor.
It costs about $100,000 per residency spot, which covers the cost of hiring faculty at medical schools and residents’ salary, malpractice insurance and benefits. The problem comes in finding funds to create more residency positions.
Medicare covers a substantial amount of the cost for residency spots, but the Balanced Budget Act puts a cap on how much funding covers specific types of care, hindering medical education programs and the communities they serve.
“We are pleased to see our nation’s medical schools increasing enrollment to address the projected physician shortage,” said Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, in a released statement. “Congress now needs to do its part and act quickly to increase the number of federally funded residency training positions in order for all medical school graduates to be able to complete their training and become participating physicians.”
Last year, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 18 which provided $300 million for residency positions in Texas in 2018, but the increase in medical schools spots will pass the amount of residency positions in the state.
Dr. Cynthia Powell, pre-med adviser at ACU, said she thinks the addition of schools will affect acceptance rates, but not by much, and not any time soon, because ACU’s acceptance rates are already high.
“Generally, our acceptance rate is consistently about twice the national average,” Powell said.
The national average of applicants who begin medical school is about 40-45 percent. About 20-30 students from ACU apply to medical school each year.
Brenna Martin, junior pre-med biochemistry major from Port Aransas, is in the middle of preparing to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), an exam that helps determine eligibility for medical students, and said she plans to stay in Texas to do her residency, though she’s open to the idea of going out of state.
“I would like to stay in Texas, and I would like to do my practicing and everything in Texas,” Martin said. “If I had to go to another place to do a residency because that’s my only option then I’m OK with that, but I think the new medical schools are awesome.”
Martin participated in the Joint Admission Medical Program (JAMP) last summer, which will help her prepare for the MCAT and medical school. Acceptance and participation in the program guarantees her acceptance into a Texas medical school associated with the program.
Part of JAMP’s goal is to produce more doctors that live in Texas and make Texas students become Texas doctors and not move to another place
“I really admire that because Texas does need more doctors and more primary care doctors in general,” Martin said. “I feel like living in Texas – I love Texas first of all – is kind if my calling to come back; not necessarily Port Aransas, but some place in Texas.”
Because the issue of available residency spots is far enough in the future to be of little concern, Powell said the focus now is getting students into medical school.
“We have a lot of students getting in, and this is a time of year for the MCAT, so they’re feeling the pressure,” she said. “We have a lot of students interested in medicine, and we have a very active group of students.”