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UT System tackling statewide physician shortage

AUSTIN – In order to ensure all Texans continue to have access to health care, The University of Texas System is taking critical steps to address the state’s physician shortage.

Two of these key initiatives include establishing new medical schools and increasing the number of resident slots across the state – both of which will have a significant impact on the state’s health care and economy.

“We don’t have enough doctors, and that’s going to affect everybody,” said Dr. Kenneth Shine, executive vice chancellor for health affairs. “We have an urgent need for physicians.”

In a report to the Board of Regents today, Shine said Texas currently ranks 47th in the nation based on the number of primary care physicians per 100,000 people.

And it’s only going to get worse given the state’s fast population growth, the increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes, and the retirement of the baby boomer generation of physicians. 

The UT System, which already has four medical schools, is working to establish a medical school in both Austin and South Texas, and both of these communities already are aggressively soliciting more resident spots for post-medical school training, Shine said. Austin, which currently has 214 resident slots, will have 264 within the next three years. And residency slots in South Texas are expected to grow from 33 to almost 150 within the next few years.

The challenge is finding the funding to pay for resident training, which can cost a hospital $120,000 to $150,000 per position. The state Legislature dramatically reduced funding for residency programs during the last session, and the federal government, through Medicare, will only pay for new resident programs.

“We’d like to restore state funding for those programs and provide additional funding to stimulate hospitals to add residency positions,” Shine said, noting that he already is working with lawmakers on a funding proposal.

Because physicians typically practice where they do their residency, the state needs to offer enough resident spots for all graduates of Texas medical schools and then some, in order to increase the state’s physician population, he said.

Texas already is doing a great job of attracting and keeping residents. In fact, of those students who attend medical school and complete their residencies in Texas, 80 percent (third highest in nation) will stay in Texas to practice. A remarkable 62 percent (second highest in the nation) of Texas medical school students who go out of state to complete their residencies come back to the Lone Star state to practice. 

The Austin medical school will graduate its first students in 2020, and the first students on the South Texas track through UT Health Science Center at San Antonio are scheduled to graduate in 2018. In addition to training much-needed physicians, both medical schools will benefit their communities by providing jobs and bringing in millions of dollars of funding for research, which potentially could create more jobs, Shine said. 

Statewide, Texas medical schools and teaching hospitals have an economic impact of more than $35.8 billion, which is fifth highest in the nation, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2012 enrollment of roughly 216,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state’s health care professionals annually. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $13.9 billion (FY 2013) including $3.1 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 87,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.