Despite a recent congressional report warning of a possible doctor shortage in the coming years and advising medical schools to increase enrollment, the University Medical School has no plans to change its admissions policy anytime soon.

Authorized by Congress, the Council on Graduate Medical Education issued a report calling for a 15-percent increase in medical school students each year for the next 10 years to avoid a major doctor shortage.

With some estimates putting the shortfall at an alarming 200,000 doctors by the year 2020, the American Association of Medical Colleges, of which the University Medical School is a member, has endorsed the COGME report and echoed the need to increase the number of medical students.

However, in the immediate future, “our admissions policy won’t be changing,” said James Woolliscroft, executive associate dean for the University Medical School.

Every year, nearly 5,000 hopeful pre-meds apply to the University’s medical school. Of those, only 170 become part of the next entering class. “Increases in enrollment would not mean a change in admissions criteria,” Woolliscroft said, as many qualified people are rejected simply due to space constraints each year.

The news of a looming doctor shortage comes as a surprise to many medical administrators. Since as late as 1996, the American Medical Association had advised that there was a glut of medical students entering the field. With the recent about-face on policy, medical schools are scrambling to increase their capacity. “These are long-term types of decisions that we haven’t made yet,” Woolliscroft said.

A deans’ response group – a gathering of regional medical school administrators – will be meeting over the summer to address the issue. Woolliscroft chairs the meetings, which will be attended by deans from Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine and Wayne State University’s School of Medicine.

Woolliscroft said the challenge in increasing students is maintaining the quality of medical education. This year, the U.S. News and World Report rankings of research medical schools ranked Michigan ninth, down from last year’s seventh-place ranking. The Medical School remains, however, one of the few schools in the nation to consistently rank in the top 10.

The most difficult aspect of increasing the class size remains finding enough mentors to provide a quality clinical experience during the latter half of a four-year M.D. program. Since the closing of the Wayne County Training Hospital, in which University medical students did a great deal of training, class size has shrunk from 240 in the 1980s to the 170 today.

“You can always put more people in classrooms; you see that on campus all the time,” Woolliscroft said. “Having sufficient mentors – that’s the bottleneck.”

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