The shortage of seats in the University of Utah medical school means that some of the Beehive State's brightest youths will leave for medical school elsewhere and the potential for Utah to add to its pool of primary-care doctors will shrink.
The state so far has not seen a critical shortage of primary-care doctors, even though doctors in Utah are paid only two-thirds the national average, but that could change quickly. Rural areas already have a hard time keeping physicians in town.
The Utah Legislature decided not to restore the U. medical school classes to 102, an increase of 20 over the current number, set in 2010 because of declining revenue. The U. medical school gets just 4 percent of its budget from state funds, while the national mean for public university medical schools is 14 percent.
U. administrators say the medical school, the only one for 500 miles, should have an enrollment of 122 per class and they have proposed a deal to share costs that would increase annual contributions from state coffers by $9.6 million and from the U.'s clinical departments by $12 million.
That is a sensible way to prevent Utah finding itself with a critical shortage of "family doctors," who are the first line of defense in health care, as other states are facing. Besides the low medical-school enrollment, the state's relatively low pay for physicians, especially those in primary care, could mean more undergraduates leaving Utah to study and then practice elsewhere.
The alternative of raising tuition would result in medical-school graduates going deeper in debt to finance their training and then potentially being lured into medical specialties, rather than family practice, in order to repay loans and support families.
The Legislature was generous in filling some requests from higher education officials in its session just ended. But the university is farsighted in continuing to press for additional medical school funding to boost enrollment.
It's important to those bright young Utahns who want to train and practice as doctors in their home state so they can raise their families here. The U. recognizes that and reserves 70 percent of slots for Utah residents.
And it's important, not only to families with children but also the 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. The state has a duty to meet those needs.