On Match Day, USF medical students push for GME funds with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor

Graduating medical students at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine celebrated the next step in their careers at Match Day Friday – but first they and leading advocates took time out to call for increased support of graduate medical training.

Without increased federal funding for graduate medical training, the nation’s looming physician shortage will get worse, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said Friday at USF’s Match Day celebration. With more medical school students and no increase in residency slots, it’s getting harder each year for students to “match” into a residency space.

“Medical schools expect to graduate more students, but the number of available residency training slots will not keep up with this trend unless Congress invests in developing our residency programs to meet the health care needs of our aging population,” U.S. Rep. Castor said. “Giving teaching hospitals the opportunity to grow their training programs makes sense in their mission to provide quality health care and makes economic sense for Florida because doctors tend to remain in the region where they complete their medical training.”

_HCM3111_RSS

L to R: Dr. Harry van Loveren, interim dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and Alicia Billington, a graduating USF Health medical student, at Match Day 2014.

Just before USF Health’s Match Day celebration began, Rep. Castor (D-FL) announced that she and U.S. Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) introduced the Creating Access to Residency Education (CARE) Act of 2014 on Friday. The CARE bill aims to create a $25 million CMS grant program that would allow hospitals in states with a low ratio of graduate medical education (GME) training slots – including Florida – to apply for matching funds to support increases in slots.

USF Health leaders and students applauded Rep. Castor’s support of increased funding.

“We congratulate our students for reaching this milestone in their medical careers. On Match Day, we want to celebrate this culmination of their hard work and drive,” said Dr. Harry van Loveren, interim dean of the Morsani College of Medicine. “We’re also mindful today that the path they have traveled is becoming more difficult to navigate. We’re so grateful to have U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor with us today to push to increase federal funding and ensure that future medical students, both here in Florida and across the country, can enjoy this same success.”

Graduating students came to Match Day to learn their fates, finding out at Match Day where they would spend the next several years of their careers. Despite the suspense, students found time to be advocates. They chose to highlight the GME funding crisis on their Match Day T-shirts this year, which read “#save GME” across the back.

_HCM3225 copy_RSS

Before the Match Day celebration began, Congresswoman Castor announced the introduction of proposed legislation to support more residency training slots. Billington, right, is one of the nation’s leading student advocates for increased graduate medical education funding.

“We decided to do this after realizing, ‘What is the best present you could give to your classmates?’ A residency slot,” said graduating student Alicia Billington, one of the nation’s leading student advocates for increased GME funding.

“We stand in solidarity for your future Match Day,” Billington said Friday to future medical classes at USF. “We’ve got your back.”

Billington, who will graduate with an MD/PhD, learned Friday that she matched in plastic and reconstructive surgery – one of the country’s most competitive specialties – at her top choice, the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. Billington interned in Washington, D.C., with the American Medical Association and has focused her political efforts on increasing funding for GME.

National medical leaders thanked both Rep. Castor and Billington for their support of increasing funding, saying change is needed to avert a physician shortage that will limit access to health care.

“Match Day is a day of excitement, enthusiasm, and joy for medical students around the country,” said Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, President and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). “While we celebrate with these students, we also look ahead to the next decade when our nation will face a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians of all types.  This makes increasing federal support for graduate medical education a critical priority. The AAMC applauds the efforts of Rep. Kathy Castor, who is a true champion on GME and physician workforce issues.  And we thank student advocates like USF medical school senior and GME advocacy champion Alicia Billington for their hard work educating their communities about these important issues.”

In recent years, medical school enrollment has increased, while the federal funding that is the main funding source for the nation’s residency programs has remained capped. Last year, 528 medical students did not match – more than double the number of unmatched students the prior year.

“Not every medical student in the United States is going to get a spot this year,” Dr. van Loveren said to the USF Health students assembled for Match Day Friday. “Can you imagine going through all this and no residency training?”

_HCM3347_RSS

Castor flashes the USF “Go Bulls” sign as Billington, recipient of the first match letter, finds out she’ll be doing a residency in plastic and reconstructive surgery at her first choice — the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

Florida has only 19 medical residents per 100,000 state residents, well below the national average of 26.8 residents, according to a 2012 study by the Association of American Medical Colleges. While Florida is the 4th most populous state, it ranks 42nd in the number of graduate medical residents per Florida residents.

With 3,898 medical students but only 3,769 residency and fellow positions, Florida also doesn’t have enough slots to go around. That means Florida is a “net exporter” of medical students – many students train here, but must go elsewhere for graduate training. Because so many students stay where they receive graduate training, exporting students means Florida loses future physicians.

That needs to change, Castor said Friday to USF Health’s Match Day crowd.

“It doesn’t take a brain surgeon,” she said, pointing to Dr. van Loveren, “to know we need talented doctors here in the state of Florida.”

Of the 121 USF Health students participating in Match Day, 39 percent will stay in Florida; 30 percent of the class matched at USF Health. Other students scattered across the country, going everywhere from Massachusetts General Hospital to UCLA Medical Center.

Every USF Health Morsani College of Medicine student participating in this year’s Match was matched to a residency slot. On the flip side, the College of Medicine also filled every one of its available residency slots with graduating medical students.

Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications