Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, is sponsoring SB42, which would provide $10 million to reinstate 20 University of Utah School of Medicine slots that were eliminated over the past four years. And it would eventually fund another 20 students, creating a class of 122. That's the right number for the U. med school, according to Valentine and U. administrators.
Since the U. has the only medical school within 500 miles, expanding enrollment is important to bright young Utahns who want to train and practice as doctors in their home state. And it is just as important to their parents who want to see them raise their families here. Medical school graduates tend to practice in or near the state where they receive their training. The U. recognizes that and reserves 70 percent of slots for Utah residents.
The bill would be important also to Utah's growing elder population. The number of Utahns 65 and older is expected grow by 50 percent between 2000 and 2015, and by 155 percent by 2030. Their need for medical services will grow just as fast.
Utah has fewer than 10 doctors per 1,000 people. Only four states Wyoming, Arkansas, Idaho and Mississippi have fewer physicians per capita, according to 2010 statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Valentine rightly points out that older doctors are "retiring in droves." Without providing the resources for the U. to turn out more medical doctors, especially primary-care doctors, Utah's physician shortage will only worsen.
A recommendation made by Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, that the bill require some number or percentage of new students to specialize in primary care is worth consideration.
The state has a duty to meet the medical-care needs of its growing population, and it has an excellent medical school in place to do that. But it will require more state funding since tuition at the U. medical school is already well above the national average and should not go higher.
The Utah Senate passed SB42 this week; the House should do the same.