Now acknowledging that there may be an impending physician shortage, the Association of American Medical Colleges is setting up a new center to determine beyond a doubt whether there is a physician shortage.
The Washington-based group's member medical schools hold the key to alleviating a shortage by increasing class size and calling for new schools. But despite growing beliefs by experts across the country that there is a shortage, the AAMC is still holding off on declaring a shortage until its new Center for Workforce Studies, which it introduced Wednesday, can provide more data.
AAMC says the center, which will begin operation in April, will be headed by Edward Salsberg, a physician supply expert whose report earlier this year to the federal Council on Graduate Medical Education declared there is an impending shortage of specialists.
Based on Salsberg's report, COGME recommended in September that medical schools increase enrollments by 15% over the next decade to help offset what the council sees as a future shortfall of physicians.
A study in the Dec. 10 Journal of the American Medical Association reports that 85% of medical school deans think there is a physician shortage. But AAMC President Jordan Cohen, M.D., says more information is needed before his organization can declare a shortage.
"There isn't a universal acceptance of the idea," Cohen says, noting that predictions of a physician surplus in the 1990s turned out to be wrong.
Since most medical schools are state-funded and states are strapped for money, Cohen says the AAMC would need to generate "strong, data-driven proposals" to show there actually is a shortage and exactly what should be done about it, Cohen says.
Among other things, Cohen says Salsberg will be asked to closely examine factors that may be causing a shortage, such as early retirement of physicians, the influence of women on the profession and the roles of nonphysician practitioners.
Salsberg is currently executive director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the School of Public Health, University of Albany, at State University of New York.
"Bringing Ed Salsberg in says to the world that this is something that we're going to devote a lot of energy to," says Richard Cooper, M.D., a physician supply expert and author of the JAMA study, who argues there is already a shortage.
"The AAMC will now have the staff to show their leadership role more effectively," adds Cooper, who is director of the Health Policy Institute at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.