As the number of applicants to the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) has risen in recent years, the number of residency slots has also slowly increased, with 2016 offering the highest number of residency spots ever in a match up to that point, and 2017 offering an increase over 2016. 4
Further reading: Is work-life balance a reality for physicians?
This is in large part a result of the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2015, a government-sponsored effort aimed at preventing a potential crisis in access to physician care.
The act allows for an increase in the number of residency positions for each year from 2017 through 2021, under the direction of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, generally setting the aggregate number of increases in the resident limit to 3,000 in each year.5
This law has indeed had an impact on residency spots, which should increase the number of physicians that patients have access to. Whether the overall physician population chooses to stay in medicine is another question mark that few, if any, can predict.
What doctors say
But doctors say that the impact of these changes is not happening fast enough for underserved patients, and some physicians believe that other changes need to take place to keep physicians in practice.
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One primary care physician, who does not want his name used because it could affect his career, suggests a different solution, which involves making it easier for foreign medical school graduates (FMGs) to have access to jobs. An FMG himself who completed his residency training in an American family medicine program, he recently signed a contract to work in an underserved area after years of trying to find a job. He explains that he had difficulty due to visa sponsorship issues.
The state hospital where he finally found a job had been advertising to fill the position for two years prior to signing him.
He says, “Now, with the recent halt in premium processing, the prospect of my job is uncertain. I have a signed agreement with the state and they have approved a waiver to allow me to work in an underserved area. However, due to United States Immigration and Citizenship Service (USCIS) halt, my start date has been delayed indeterminately. As a result, those underserved patients will be unattended.”
Practicing physicians in some specialties are feeling the crunch.