ROOTSTOWN, Ohio — Our healthcare systems are facing a crisis as hospitals throughout the area are working to get by with smaller staffs. All the while, the need for healthcare professional grows.
In November, News 5 Cleveland reported on a new nursing program in Cleveland. Now, medical schools across the country are recording an increase in first-year applications, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC.
A report from the association said, "while the increase in students in the 2020 entering medical school class was modest, the number of students applying to medical school for the upcoming 2021 academic year shows substantial growth, up by approximately 18% from the same time last year."
“The increased interest in medicine comes at a crucial moment. Even before COVID-19, the United States was facing a significant projected shortage of physicians,” said David J. Skorton, MD, AAMC president and CEO. “The pandemic is spotlighting the extraordinary services that physicians provide on the front lines. It’s heartening to see that more students want to pursue a career in medicine in order to serve their communities and make a difference.”
Northeast Ohio Medical University, also known as NEOMED, located in Rootstown, has one of eight medical programs in Ohio. The president, Dr. John Langell, said parallel to the nation, enrollment is up for NEOMED.
“I just reviewed our numbers and we are at a 17% increase in total applicants," said Langell. "It's really good for a number of reasons."
AAMC said the increase is paramount because the latest projections show a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033.
"We need to do something to change this because we really need to ensure that we have appropriate health care for everybody in this country," said Langell. "So seeing these increases is important. Unfortunately those increases aren't also reflecting an increased total capacity in medical schools. It helps helps provide a bigger pool of candidates and hopefully a more diverse pool of candidates. But, it doesn't necessarily increase our physician numbers for the future. That's something that's going to require more effort in other areas."
Langell attributed the shortage to what he calls a bottleneck issue.
"While we can double the number of students sitting in a classroom without any difficulty. It's the number of clinical training slots and hospitals that is really, that's the barrier," he said.
In addition to increase in the number of applicants, NEOMED is also striving to increase diversity among the student population. However, there's also roadblocks there as well.
"It is the right thing to do. We need to do a better job in having a healthcare workforce that's reflective of the population of patients that we take care of," Langell said. "Because the total number of underrepresented minority students applying hasn't really increased dramatically, if at all. We're just kind of stealing from each other. So our real focus needs to be on increasing the number of applicants who wants to go to medical school from this population."
Langell said the efforts need to begin at the elementary and middle school level. He wants more resources put towards populations of students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Sometimes it's just it's just as simple as providing that role model early on to say here are opportunities for you, and if those role models are not available to you, where you're from, you may not even think about that is part of your future professional opportunities," Langell said.
The university also implemented a new postbaccalaureate pathway program. It's a one-year master’s degree pathway to help increase the College of Medicine seats for racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented (URMs) who may have missed admission due to their MCAT test score. NEOMED will hold up to 10 College of Medicine slots for students who successfully complete the program. These students will not have to take the MCAT again since they had already successfully passed the test.
NEOMED said the pathway will enhance students’ knowledge and skills needed to successfully prepare for the rigors of medical school. In addition to graduate training in anatomical sciences, the students courses with current NEOMED medical students. Data shows 80% of the students enrolled in the Master of Anatomical Sciences program for academic year 2020-21 are URMs.
"If they come in and decide this isn't for them or if they can't quite get to where they want to be. They'll walk away with a master's degree and so they'll have achieved something that's going to allow them to continue their professional development," Langell said.