Medical school accepting fewer students in fall

By Lana Groves, Asst. News Editor

Instead of increasing enrollment at the U School of Medicine to offset the state’s growing physician shortage, the number of students will decrease by 20 percent in the fall.

The class size of 102 students, which has been constant for more than 20 years, will drop to 82 students starting Fall Semester, a decrease that could have long-term consequences on health care in Utah.

“The impact of this will be felt later on,” said Wayne Samuelson, senior associate dean of the medical school. “But the arithmetic is compelling. The problem with losing 40 percent of your budget is inescapable. We made the decision to do this instead of dilute the quality of education.”
The medical school proposed increasing class size last year, but when the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, discontinued a $10 million grant to the school last fall, the U was forced to cut back.

The 40-percent budget cut sent School of Medicine Dean David Bjorkman to plead the school’s case before the Utah Legislature in the past session. Several legislators were sympathetic to the medical school’s plight but were unable to find an ongoing revenue source to replace the loss of federal Medicaid funds, said Kim Wirthlin, U vice president for government relations.

“In this session, they didn’t have any ongoing revenue sources,” Wirthlin said. “They didn’t increase taxes that would have increased the revenue source.”

If the school didn’t decrease the number of students admitted, the upper level 2-to-1 ratio of the number of students per physician would grow, giving students less one-on-one time with physicians. Samuelson said if they increased the ratio to one physician for every four to five students, the school would be held accountable for decreasing the caliber of its educational training.

Besides enrolling fewer students, the school has increased tuition by 15 percent, about 5 percent more than the university-wide increase felt after legislative budget cuts.

“We’re hopeful this is temporary,” Wirthlin said. “We hope someday the state will be able to replace the $10 million, and then we will restore the class size to 102.”

In the meantime, the physician shortage, which is especially apparent in primary care practice, will only worsen.

“I think it’s a serious problem,” said Andrew Warren, a first-year medical student at the U. “There’s already a huge shortage of doctors, and this will only exacerbate the problems. Every potential doctor you cut will have a huge impact on the health care community.”

Warren, one of hundreds of resident medical students who will pay an additional $3,000 every year for his education, said he’d prefer that the school increase tuition even more rather than cut the number of students.

Even if the school increased tuition by $10,000 more, it would only affect one-fourth of a student’s total education expenses. It costs about $80,000 to $100,000 every year to train a medical student.

Despite the decreased number of students, the medical school is not dismissing any faculty. All medical professors at the U are physicians for the U Hospitals and Clinics.

“What happens when a physician is teaching a student is that physician can’t be in the hospital or clinic caring for patients, thus losing that revenue,” Wirthlin said. “We used those education dollars we had to partially offset that loss of patient care revenue, and now we can’t afford to do that as much.”

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