As physician shortage looms, Florida medical school deans call for passage of Nelson-Reid bill

The deans of Florida's medical schools have banded together to support legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., that would expand residency training in Florida and 23 other states where physician shortages are predicted.

Deans of the new medical schools being established at the University of Central Florida and Florida International University have joined those at the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of Miami, Florida State University and Nova Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine in calling for passage of the bill and its companion bill in the House, which was filed by Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., and co-sponsored by Kathy Castor, D-Fla.

If passed, Florida hospitals would gain 347 new residency positions - more than any other state. Residency is a period of three to five years after medical school in which physicians train in a specialty.

March 15, graduating medical students from throughout Florida and the nation will find out where they "matched" for their residency training. If past results of the National Residency Matching Program are repeated, about half of Florida's new medical doctors will match with out-of-state programs.

The root of the problem lies in the way the federal government helps meet the nation's demand for doctors. The Medicare program has traditionally paid for most physicians' residencies, the final step in a doctor's training. But in 1997, federal law capped the number of Medicare-supported medical residents for hospitals. A decade later, the number and geographical distribution of federally supported medical residents do not reflect recent population growth or shifts.

Growth states like Florida with large numbers of elderly and baby boomers have been hit hardest. Florida ranks 46th nationally in the number of total residency positions per 100,000 population, according to the Council for Education Policy, Research and Improvement, which estimated that Florida would need an additional 2,700 residency positions to meet the national ratio of medical residents to 100,000 population.

"Florida needs this bill more than any other state," Nelson said. "As our population grows and ages, we need make sure we have enough doctors to meet their needs."

Statistically, doctors tend to remain in the area where they do their training; therefore, increasing the number of physicians-in-training in a state is essential to increasing the physician workforce.

"Floridians have made a big investment in our medical schools, and we want them to get a return on that investment by having our graduates stay in Florida to serve them," said Dr. J. Ocie Harris, dean of the FSU College of Medicine. "We are exporting half our graduates to other states for residency now. We could see that rise to 70 percent if we don't find a way to fund more residency slots."

Florida's medical school deans are: J. Ocie Harris, M.D., Florida State University; C. Craig Tisher, M.D., University of Florida; Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., University of Miami; Stephen K. Klasko, M.D., University of South Florida; Anthony J. Silvagni, D.O., Nova Southeastern University; Deborah C. German, M.D., University of Central Florida; and John A. Rock, M.D., Florida International University.