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U.S. Medical School Enrollment Surpasses Expansion Goal

July 25, 2019

Averting Physician Shortage Now Depends on More Slots for Residency Training

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PRESS CONTACTS
Stuart Heiser, Sr. Media Relations Specialist

Enrollment in U.S. medical schools has grown by 31% since 2002, and, combined with increases in enrollment at schools of osteopathic medicine, overall medical student enrollment is now 52% higher than in 2002, according to the results of an annual survey released today by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The AAMC called for a 30% increase in medical student enrollment in 2006 as a response to concerns about a future physician shortage. Since then, expansion has occurred through increases in class sizes at existing medical schools and the creation of new medical schools. Twenty-nine new accredited medical schools have opened, along with 17 new schools of osteopathic medicine, since 2002.

Findings from the report, Results of the 2018 Medical School Enrollment Survey, indicate that as of the 2018-19 academic year, first-year enrollment in U.S. medical schools had increased to 21,622 students, and first-year enrollment at schools of osteopathic medicine was 8,124 students.

“U.S. medical schools have responded to the AAMC’s call to action by significantly expanding enrollment,” said Atul Grover, MD, PhD, AAMC executive vice president. “Now the national focus must shift to increasing the number of residency training slots so the nation will have enough physicians to combat the impending shortage and care for our growing and aging population.”

A shortage of up to 122,000 physicians is projected by 2032, including up to 55,000 in primary care and 66,000 in other specialties.

Because medical school graduates must undergo additional training in a residency program in order to practice medicine, expansion of medical school enrollments alone will not ensure the nation has enough doctors. For more than 20 years, the number of federally supported residency training slots has been capped by Congress. As a result, the number of residency positions has risen only 1% a year, far lower than enrollment growth.

The survey found that medical school deans are worried: 75% expressed concern about the availability of residency slots nationally, and 44% expressed concerns about their own incoming students’ ability to find residency positions of their choice after medical school.

Additionally, 85% of deans expressed concern about the availability of clinical training sites, and a majority reported experiencing competition for sites from other health care professional training programs, a substantial increase from about 25% of respondents who reported concerns in 2009.

To increase the supply of doctors in the United States, the AAMC supports a multipronged approach that includes passage of bipartisan legislation that would provide a modest but critical increase in the number of federally supported graduate medical education positions. The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2019 awaits action in both the Senate (S. 348) and House (H.R. 1763).

“The cap on residency positions will continue to exacerbate the projected physician shortage until Congress acts,” Grover said. “The medical education community has done its part. Now, Congress must do its part by passing the bipartisan Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act.”

The survey was sent to the deans of 151 accredited U.S. medical schools and received a 91% response rate. The full report is available here.


The Association of American Medical Colleges is a not-for-profit association dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research. Its members are all 154 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 80 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC serves the leaders of America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and their more than 173,000 full-time faculty members, 89,000 medical students, 129,000 resident physicians, and more than 60,000 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the biomedical sciences.

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