AMA Wire

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

For Residents

Residencies could be a year shorter, new study says

Time spent in medical education could be reduced by 30 percent—such as by shaving a year off of most residencies—without compromising competence, researchers say in a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Residents spend this final year mostly supervising and teaching interns, taking electives or conducting research, the study found. "While valuable, these activities are hardly essential to becoming a knowledgeable practitioner," the authors, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, and Victor R. Fuchs, wrote.

The authors also suggest shortening undergraduate medical education to fewer than four years, a model successfully implemented by more than 30 American medical schools. Their suggestion might alleviate some of the burdens faced by medical students and residents financing their educations.

The AMA also recognizes the need to reform undergraduate medical education as illustrated in its new strategic direction focusing on three areas, one of which is to accelerate change in medical education. The AMA's work in medical education will be centered on bridging the gap between how physicians are currently being trained and the future needs of the health care system.

Shortage areas still need 15,000 physicians, HHS says

More than 15,000 primary care physicians are needed to care for the estimated 54.5 million people living in so-called "health professional shortage areas," according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

That's according to HHS's updated database of these shortage areas. These numbers certainly don't allay fears of a nationwide primary care physician shortage, especially considering the Affordable Care Act's expansion of coverage provisions. Despite the impending drought, increasingly few doctors are choosing to spend their residencies training to become primary care physicians.

Although 56 percent of patient visits in America are primary care, only 37 percent of physicians practice primary care medicine, and only 8 percent of the nation's medical school graduates go into family medicine.

These statistics are less surprising when considering the income disparities between family physicians, whose annual income for 2011 averaged $158,000, and specialty doctors such as radiologists (averaging $315,000) and anesthesiologists (averaging $309,000). When coupling compensation woes with graduate medical students' loan burden, which averages more than $100,000, and low job satisfaction among primary care physicians, the shortage becomes more explicable.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is attempting to lure doctors into primary care and shortage areas by offering bonuses and incentive programs, which they hope will add some 15,000 primary care doctors by 2015.

The AMA has compiled resources to help residents learn about the intersections of public health and population-based care, and continues to advocate for initiatives to ease the financial burdens of graduate medical education.

Member feedback wanted on AMA's new strategic direction

AMA members are invited to send feedback (AMA login required) on the AMA's new strategic direction, which focuses on three areas: improving health outcomes, accelerating change in medical education, and shaping payment and delivery models to enhance physician satisfaction.

Learn more about the new strategic direction.