The number of incoming medical school students should be reduced as much as 25% by 2005 through closure of medical schools, according to a report by a healthcare policy commission.
In addition, the report by the Pew Health Professions Commission says the number of medical residencies should equal the number of U.S. medical school graduates plus 10%.
About 25,000 medical school graduates, including those from overseas schools, are entering their first year of residency in the United States. That is 40% more than the number of U.S. medical school graduates, according to the Council on Graduate Medical Education.
The Pew commission affirmed the findings of COGME, a congressional advisory panel, which recommends that 50% of new physicians should go into general practice by 2000.
The report also calls for a 10% to 20% reduction in the number of nursing education programs and a 20% to 25% reduction in the number of pharmacy schools.
It projects a glut of health professionals as healthcare moves into integrated systems. It estimates surpluses of up to 150,000 doctors because of shifts toward primary care, up to 300,000 nurses because of hospital closures, and as many as 40,000 pharmacists as prescription delivery becomes automated and centralized.
But an official with the Association of American Medical Colleges warned against "precipitous" closures of medical schools to control physician supply when the number of foreign medical graduates remains so great.
"We do believe it is important to reduce the number of physicians going into practice," said Robert Dickler, AAMC's senior vice president of healthcare affairs. "(But) it would certainly be precipitous to move to that solution until we begin to (see a reduction in) the number of residency positions."