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New med students optimistic about healthcare reforms

Seeing new opportunity

As incoming medical students put on their white coats for the first time this summer, Burlington County’s newest physician trainees know they’re entering a profession that’s undergoing a major upheaval.

If the Affordable Plan Care proceeds, 32 million additional Americans will have health insurance within the next decade. Because of that, the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates the country will need 90,000 more doctors by 2020.

Dr. Kathryn Lambert of Evesham, assistant dean for student affairs at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, Camden County, said New Jersey will face a shortage of 3,000 physicians by 2020.

Because of that impending need, the UMDNJ School of Osteopathic Medicine just enrolled its largest class ever — 162 students. And Rowan University just opened its Cooper Medical School in Camden, where the first class of 50 medical students began instruction Monday.

“Being a doctor is still a very sacred profession and a highly respected one,” said Bayo Adunbarin, a Moorestown High School and Rutgers University graduate and new student at the UMDNJ osteopathic medical school. Adunbarin is one of the incoming students selected from more than 4,200 applicants for the Stratford school.

The UMDNJ’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick accepted 134 students and its New Jersey Medical School in Newark is training 178 in this year’s matriculating class.

According to the medical college association, national medical school enrollment is expected to reach 21,376 in 2016-17, a 30 percent increase from 2006, both through expansion at existing schools and the establishment of new ones.

However, 52 percent of the medical schools “indicted concern with their ability to maintain or increase enrollment due to the economic environment,” according to the association. Medical school can cost upward of $50,000 per year.

“It takes a minimum of seven years to train a fully qualified physician. In some specialties, it takes nine to 10 years.” Lambert said. “We have the duty to our future patients to make sure every grad is highly qualified and competent.”

UMDNJ’s osteopathic school had to cap its enrollment at 162 because that’s the maximum it’s accredited to enroll.

Educating doctors takes resources, and medical schools need to make sure they have all the resources they need for their students, Lambert explained. And since the Balanced Budget Act was enacted in 1997, there has been a cap on the number of residencies funded by Medicare.

A new bill before Congress — the Physician Shortage Reduction and Graduate Medical Education Accountability and Transparency Act, co-introduced by U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa. — would expand the residency slots funded by Medicare by 15,000, said the medical colleges trade group.

The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the nation’s oldest medical school, has 163 students in its freshmen class. All received Apple iPad3s at their recent white-coat ceremony.

When asked why the class was so small when the need for doctors is so great, Penn spokeswoman Jessica Mikulski said it’s an Ivy League institution, ranked second in the country, and wants to afford its medical students more individualized training. “We like to keep classes a little smaller,” she said.

When the new Cooper Medical School is at full capacity, it will enroll 100 students per class, for a total enrollment of 400, according to school officials.

Drexel University School of Medicine, formerly Hahenmann Medical College, has accepted 260 students this year.

At the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, three Burlington County students are among the incoming class of 207 accepted from the 10,329 who applied. Another three county students are in the class of 268 at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Elizabeth Vessio of Medford said she is “really grateful” to have been accepted into Temple’s medical school and is happy about the proposed changes in health insurance.

“I hope that more people will be more properly cared for,” said Vessio, a Shawnee High School graduate. “Everybody will be seen equally.”

At Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Daniel O’Brien of Medford, Kaitlyn Kennard of Evesham and Katie Seither of Cinnaminson all said they’ve wanted to be doctors since they were children. They’re among the 265 new medical students at Jefferson; more than 10,000 students applied.

“Since I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a physician,” Kennard said. She attended Merion Mercy Academy and Ursinus College, both in Pennsylvania.

O’Brien recalled being pleased when he earned his medical badge as a Boy Scout. He’s a graduate of St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.

He said he’s happy Jefferson offers opportunities for doctors to help the underprivileged and the under-insured. “Jefferson has a number of programs that aim to increase the amount of primary care doctors in rural and under-served areas,” he said.

Seither, who graduated from Cinnaminson High School and Haverford College, admitted “it’s a little bit nerve-wracking” not knowing how the health care reforms will affect practitioners. Despite that, she still wants to be a doctor.

“It’s perfect for me,” she said, because she’s scientifically oriented and enjoys interacting with people.
New UMDNJ-School of Medicine student Joseph Lee of Burlington Township said he anticipates some “growing pains” with the advent of universal coverage, but he believes it’s needed. “We need improved access (to health care),” he said.

With all the changes planned by the Affordable Care Act, UMDNJ’s Lambert said it’s important for medical students and residents to be exposed to the business side of the profession so they’re “savvy” on insurance issues while providing their patients the best care.

“It’s very complicated for patients and for physicians,” Lambert said. “There will be a lot of education all around.”

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