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Saving Graduate Medical Education Keeps Tomorrow's Doctors in Utah

Despite the need for additional Graduate Medical Education (GME) funding and support, federal legislators are now looking to cut GME funding to reduce the federal deficit. In fact, if the President's budget proposal passes, University of Utah Health Care will lose approximately $2 million in GME funding in 2014. This will directly affect both the current and future medical students here at the University of Utah. As a future physician and current patient, I hope to advocate for a change.

Tyson Schwab

While attending the American Medical Association conference as a delegate representing both the State of Utah and the University of Utah, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Mike Lee's offices in Washington DC regarding health care policy. During my meetings there, I presented specific statistics and testimonials regarding health care topics we face here in Utah. We spent the majority of our time focusing on the role of GME funding in health care reform and physician shortages.

GME is the hands-on training phase of physician education that physicians must complete to obtain a license for independent practice, also known as residency. A significant portion of these expenses are paid by Medicare, which compensates teaching hospitals for shared of the costs directly related to training residents, as well as the costs associated with treating a more complex patient population. GME funding has been capped since 1997.

There is a common saying in medical education that, "You stay where you train." If we want to lessen the effects locally from the inevitable nation-wide physician shortage, we must stop GME funding cuts and expand GME funding for the state of Utah. With a serious physician shortage on the horizon, we must expand the number of physicians. The University of Utah School of Medicine has been awarded 20 additional seats this year and next, and 40 more starting in 2015. This is an incredible expansion and a step in the right direction. But now, more than ever, we need to expand our residency positions in Utah.

During my meetings, our representatives inquired about how these issues are affecting medical student in Utah. I expressed some issues we as student face, such as extreme student debt, the possibility of not matching after medical school, extended working hours and patient spending caps, to name a few. Senator Hatch's office agreed to establish an open communication relationship directly with the University of Utah medical students in order to improve the Senator's approach to addressing the Graduate Medical Education funding issue.

Across the Potomac River at the American Medical Association Conference, we addressed the same issue. Physicians and medical students from around the country consider GME funding and Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) the top priority issues. Among the discussion of 40 new health care bills, the majority of time and effort was focused on GME funding and SGR repeal. If physicians from around the country consider GME a top priority, so should the decision makers in Washington DC.

I hope we, as current and future patients, can understand the need for more skilled physicians. It is not complicated mathematics. If the supply of physicians is low and the replenishing numbers of physicians decreases we will have fewer physicians than we currently do. With patient numbers increasing as a result of the Affordable Healthcare Act, we must act now. If we, as citizens of Utah, act now we will provide a better health care environment for both patients and physicians. Our efforts now will impact our health care directly, now and for many generations to come.

Please spread the awareness of Graduate Medical Education funding. Please write to our Senators and Representatives and let them know we must expand Graduate Medical Education funding. To prevent a greater storm we must take action now.