MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A national health care workforce policy would result in a better distribution of physicians to areas where they are needed, the University of Tennessee’s dean of medicine said Wednesday.
“This nation has not come to grips with the idea that it needs a national health-care workforce policy,” Dr. Robert Summitt said.
“Until it does, then we’re going to have 50 states making decisions (based on) their own needs.”
Summitt was responding to a report by the Institute of Medicine, an affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences, which said immediate steps should be taken to reduce the overall number of physicians-in-training in the United States while protecting access to health care for under-served populations.
The report (1) calls for a freeze on medical school class sizes, (2) recommends that no new medical schools be opened, (3) says the federal government should reduce the number of medical residency positions it funds and (4) calls for limiting the number of foreign medical school graduates allowed to train in the U.S., about 75 percent of which remain in the U.S. to practice.
The number of foreign medical school graduates in residency or fellowship training in the U.S. from 1988 to 1993 rose from 12,433 to 22,705, while the number of U.S. medical graduates remained steady at 17,500.
“If we’re going to have a national workforce policy, the first thing it should address is the non-U.S. medical graduates,” Summitt said. “As long as they’re going to come in increasing numbers, we’re going to have an increasing number of physicians — not because we have too many medical students in the United States, but because we are adding increasing numbers of non-U.S. medical graduates.”
Summitt agreed that the U.S. does not need more medical schools. He also agreed with Don Detmer, University of Virginia senior vice president and co-chairman of the Institute of Medicine study panel, who said the nation needs “more care of the right kind, at the right place…at the right cost.”
With more than half of Tennessee’s 95 counties reporting a shortage of health professionals, including physicians, “it’s going to be hard for this state’s public policy-makers to buy the idea that we have too many doctors or health-care providers in general,” Summitt said.
Contact: Dr. Robert Summitt (901-448-5529)