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February 15, 2007
Nevada's only public medical school plans to nearly double the size of its student body over the next 10 years. Recognizing the growing need for doctors within the state, The University of Nevada School of Medicine administrators began planning for the enrollment expansion more than three years ago. The class size has increased from 52 students to the planned enrollment of 62 students in the class of 2011.
According to a report released today from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the School of Medicine isn't the only U.S. medical school planning enrollment increases. Seventy other American medical schools plan to expand their class sizes over the next five years. By 2012, first-year medical student enrollment is projected to increase 17 percent to nearly 19,300 students.
"The AAMC recognizes the nationwide need for more doctors," says John McDonald, vice president health sciences and medical school dean.
"However, the need in Nevada for increased access to healthcare is even greater. Our state ranks 47th in the nation in physicians per 100,000 people and near the bottom in nurses per 100,000 people. As Nevada continues to grow and the population ages our projected physician shortfall is even more dire than the national outlook. Expanding the state's medical school is just one of the ways we can help ease the looming crisis."
Last year the AAMC called for a 30 percent enrollment increase in medical schools by 2015. The expansion would result in an additional 5,000 new M.D. students annually. In order to accomplish the increase, the AAMC suggested boosting enrollment at existing schools and creating new allopathic medical schools.
"The need for more doctors is real and will become more urgent," said AAMC President Darrell Kirch. "Clearly we must find additional ways to stimulate more growth in medical school capacity so that we have enough doctors to care for our nation in the coming decades."
School of Medicine administrators agree. Aside from increasing undergraduate medical student enrollment, they argue Nevada must also increase the breadth and diversity of its residency programs.
"To keep more doctors in the state, we have to increase our residency offerings," says McDonald. "Studies indicate that nearly seven out of 10 physicians practice where they train. Last year, almost half of our graduating medical students were forced to leave the state because training for their specialty was not offered in Nevada. If we increase our residency opportunities, we'll attract more physicians from out of state and keep a higher percentage of those we train as M.D.s."
The AAMC acknowledges institutions may encounter hurdles while attempting to increase enrollment. Identified expansion barriers include the availability of scholarships, classroom space, ambulatory preceptors, and cost. Nevada medical school administrators are working to overcome these hurdles by asking the State Legislature for increased state operating budget to fund the additional faculty needed to accommodate the increased class size.
The School of Medicine is also expanding its clinical operation to help offset costs. Currently, the school funds 82 cents of every dollar spent to operate the school's academic mission.
"Increasing our faculty size is critical to our expansion," McDonald says. "Our state has been supportive of our efforts by providing the funding to increase classroom space, but we'll need to add new faculty in order to put the space to good use. Without the additional faculty to train more physicians, expanding our class size and residency programs is futile."
Currently the School of Medicine employs 146 clinical faculty to oversee its academic mission. Like the student expansion, the school's growth plan calls for a gradual increase in faculty over the next 10 years.