Currently, the only way to become a practicing doctor in the U.S. is to complete a residency program after medical school. However, for the past two decades there has been a cap on the number of residents funded by Medicare, which is the primary source of payment for residents.
That cap has limited the expansion of some residency programs, which play a significant role in ultimately shaping the medical workforce. Residents also are key to helping academic medical centers meet the need to treat the poor and uninsured.
Health care experts fear that the system is nearing a point where the country will have more medical school graduates than available first-year residency slots, said Len Marquez, director of government relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges.
And as more physicians near retirement at the same time more Americans are gaining access to health insurance, a lack of residency slots could lead to a physician shortage.
Lawmakers and health systems are turning to interesting ways to address the problem, including increasing the Medicare funding cap and smaller hospitals leasing residency slots to larger academic medical centers.
Read more: St. Louis Post-Dispatch