Monday, April 25, 2011

Gambling with Matches

"Match Day" came and went this year on March 17th; I find it interesting to look at the raw data from the residency match, as it gives one an idea of what the next generation of physicians are thinking about the future, and my chosen specialty in particular. It is also instructive to see what is put out as PR for the match and compare it to the match results themselves:

For Second Year, More U.S. Medical School Seniors Match to Primary Care Residencies
For the second year in a row, more U.S. medical school seniors will train as family medicine residents, according to new data released today by the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP). The number of U.S. seniors matched to family medicine positions rose by 11 percent over 2010. In Match Day ceremonies across the country today, these individuals will be among more than 16,000 U.S. medical school seniors who will learn where they are going to spend the next three to seven years of residency training.

I'd like to focus on three residencies --- Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, and General Surgery. For Family Medicine, 48% of the 2,708 slots this year went to US medical school graduates, compared with 44.8%, 42.2%, 43.9%, and 42.1% in the previous four years. For Internal Medicine, the numbers were somewhat higher, with 57.4% of the 5,121 positions being filled by US graduates, in comparison to 54.5%, 53.5%, 54.8%, and 55.9%. Both are a bit of a bump up, but the 11% rise noted for Family Medicine in the press release is a bit misleading, as the number of slots increased by 100 over 2010 as well.

General surgery numbers were a bit mixed, as there were more slots available this year (1,108 versus 1,077 in 2010), 81% of which were filled by US graduates; in comparison, the percentages were 83.1%, 77.4%, 83.1%, and 78.1% going back to 2007. Pediatrics and OB-GYN numbers are hanging in the low-to-mid 70% range for the same time period.

What does all of this mean? I'm not really sure. Not being a statistician, I can't say for sure but none of these numbers suggest a statistically significant change in the percentage of US medical school graduates going into these residencies, all political and PR posturing aside. One thing that many tend to forget is that subspecialty care will draw off many of these primary care physicians with time --- into cardiology, GI, neonatology, high-risk OB, plastic surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, etc.



If I was a betting man, I would bet that the minor increase in FP and IM numbers this year will not be sustained; there are too many financial forces working against the physicians in those specialties. And general surgery is not terribly different in the long run.