Affordable, high-quality health care is an important factor in recruiting businesses and talent to Utah. Health care touches the lives of nearly every Utahn, sending both direct and indirect ripples throughout our state economy.
One way we can strengthen our healthcare sector is to assure that an adequate supply of physicians is available to support our growing population.
That's why the Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Hospital Association have joined together to voice support for SB42, legislation funding the expansion of class size for the University of Utah School of Medicine.
By 2020, there is a projected shortage of at approximately 91,500 physicians 45,400 in primary care and 46,100 subspecialists in the United States. Utah's physician shortage is even more severe than most other states across the nation.
As research conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges has found, only three states have fewer physicians per capita than Utah. This shortage will intensify with the influx of the newly insured in 2014, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, and will further worsen as the number of people over age 65 (who use more than twice the health care of younger adults) doubles.
In 2008, as the nation entered what has come to be known as the Great Recession, the University of Utah School of Medicine reduced its class size from 102 students to 82 due to cuts in federal funding.
To meet the impending demand, the university has set a goal to immediately increase the School of Medicine's class size back to 102 students.
Through SB42, the University of Utah is requesting $10 million from the general fund to enable the School of Medicine to restore and expand its class size to 122, the optimal size of the class at the Medical School, within the next two years. The $10 million request reflects cost-sharing with the School of Medicine to support the expansion.
Utah is fortunate to be able to train and retain a number of physicians within the state. Each year, 75 percent of each medical school class at the U is composed of Utah residents. Additionally, approximately two-thirds of all Utah physicians have a connection to the University of Utah School of Medicine.
It is also important to note that the U is among the top medical schools in the country in the percentage of medical students pursuing family medicine. Primary care is a more popular profession for medical students at the University of Utah than most medical schools.
For our rural areas, recruiting physicians is a significant challenge. The best way to get more medical professionals working in our rural communities is to expand our ability to educate physicians within the state.
The University program offers rotations in rural areas and actively recruits rural applicants. Expanding slots available at the School of Medicine is a win-win for all parts of the state.
The Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Hospital Association support full funding of the expansion of the School of Medicine.
Passage of SB42 means that more highly qualified Utah students will be able to stay and receive their medical training close to home, helping to reduce their debt load, and ensuring that we have the number of physicians we need to care for our citizens in this generation and the next. This expanded capacity will be tremendously beneficial for our state.
Lane Beattie is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. Rod Betit is the president and CEO of Utah Hospital Association