The Medical School Boom

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran an interesting article about an expected boom in the number of medical degrees that will be awarded in a given year … the most dramatic increase in years. The article focused on the two dozen new medical schools opening their doors, the 18 percent increase in total number of seats, and the ability to educate more doctors in American medical schools. It all sounds pretty great.

Leave it to one of the best legal blogs around to throw cold water on everyone. The edgy legal blog Above the Law ran a terrific opinion piece that pointed out all of the potential problems with this development by drawing comparisons with the law school arena.

The ATL article exists to ask the big question overlooked in the Times piece, namely, is it a good thing to generate more doctors? The piece takes the “good news” of the Times article and subverts it. Whereas The Times bemoans the fact that “qualified” med students have had to go abroad or into other areas of study, ATL hypothesizes that the mere fact that there are more qualified med students than seats is what preserves high salaries and prestige in the medical profession.

If that seems like an overly simplistic idea (and one that may fly in the face of the U.S.’s ever-pressing need for doctors), the article’s author, David Lat, quickly finds support for the premise by looking at the current situation in the legal profession. Just last week, Mark Greenbaum wrote a terrific op-ed piece for The Los Angeles Times that basically begged for a moratorium on new law schools and the expansion of legal training. His stance was pretty simple: there are too many lawyers of varying quality, training, and employability and the net effect is that everyone in the legal profession is suffering as a result. Greenbaum drills the ABA for not creating more barriers to entry and for making a bar card too easy to come by.

Lat takes this observation and simply applies it to the news that medical schools are going to generate 18 percent more doctors. Not surprisingly, he theorizes that this development is going to have the same ramifications as the law school expansion … too many doctors, not enough gigs, a drop in quality (or at least perceived quality), and, ultimately, a diminution of the prestige and job security of the profession.

The ATL article eventually tails off into a position defense and winds up focusing more on the legal profession than the medical field, but the initial thoughts offer up tremendous food-for-thought. Do we want to make an MD more accessible? Does America need more doctors? If the market floods, does it start a downward spiral?

Most importantly – for people applying and for companies like ours that work with those applicants – what does this mean for long-term career prospects? Surely most candidates are excited about the idea of more spots as it alleviates some of the pressure associated with medical school admissions. But if the value of the degree is jeopardized in the process, who much is that initial relief worth?

At the end of the day, most medical school students are driven by passion and a desire to serve just as much as they are by the money and prestige of being a doctor, so it is possible that these questions will have little impact on the average applicant’s decision-making process. And that’s probably a good thing. Let’s just hope that we can one day say the same thing about the influx of med schools. These driven, passionate people don’t deserve to sit around 10 years from now wondering what happened to their career paths.

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