UMC Links

University of Utah and Intermountain Health Care Commit Millions Per Year to Help Combat Looming Physician Shortage

Jan. 20, 2005 — The University of Utah and Intermountain Health Care today announced they will commit on average more than $3 million each year to the state’s Utah Medical Education Council (UMEC). The money will be used to combat the state’s looming physician shortage by funding 64 new physician residency positions per year.

There are currently 663 physician residents – recent medical school graduates in required specialized training – in 54 specialties receiving training at Utah hospitals. Residencies last three to seven years and are only partially funded by federal and state government. UMEC – which was created by the state legislature in 1997 – coordinates the funding of the state’s residency programs.

The country and the state are facing physician shortages in several specialty areas. Without expansion of the training programs, Utah will face a severe physician shortage by the year 2020. “The financial commitment that the University and IHC are making underscores the urgency of the physician workforce shortage looming in Utah’s future. While this funding will help significantly expand the state’s physician training capacity, it is only a fraction of what is needed to keep up with population growth and the increasing demand for care,” said David J. Bjorkman, M.D., M.S.P.H., dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine and chair of the Utah Medical Education Council. He was joined at the announcement by Greg Schwitzer, M.D., vice president of clinical support services for Intermountain Health Care.

National studies predict the United States could be short by as many as 200,000 physicians in 15 years. Bjorkman and Schwitzer stated that an additional 200 physicians are needed locally each year to offset the number of retiring doctors and to care for Utah’s rapid population growth and aging baby boomers. Nationally, there are 286 physicians per 100,000 people. Utah lags behind with only 167 doctors per 100,000 people. Fortunately for Utah, the mix of generalists and specialists is well balanced in the state.

“Both nationally and locally we’re seeing net losses or very small gains in the number of physicians entering the workforce in fields such as pediatrics, internal medicine, radiology, anesthesiology, and obstetrics and gynecology,” said Schwitzer.

Both doctors agree that growth and retention in Utah’s residency programs is critical to alleviating the state’s workforce shortage. Research shows that physicians tend to stay in the state where they complete their residency. In fact, approximately 60 percent of physicians currently practicing in Utah either completed or received a portion of their medical education in the state.

While the $3 million commitment made by the University and IHC is an important first step, it will not solve the problem. Ultimately the state and community will have to join the University and IHC in their commitment to educating Utah’s physician workforce, according to Bjorkman and Schwitzer.

The new positions created by the $3 million annual commitment will be in pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, anesthesiology, and adult and child psychiatry. These positions will be split among various Wasatch front hospitals including: University of Utah Hospital, the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute, LDS Hospital, and Primary Children’s Medical Center.