Editorial: WSU gets ahead of doctor shortage

The Detroit News

Wayne State University recognizes the future shortage of doctors could seriously damage health care in America. So it’s getting aggressive about recruiting and training the next generation of physicians.

It’s new and ambitious Med-Direct program promises great rewards for both students and the community.

High school graduates who qualify will be given free tuition as well as room and board for their entire college careers, which would include four years of undergraduate work and four years of postgraduate study as they train to become either doctors or physician scientists.

Getting into the program won’t be easy. A minimum 3.5 high school GPA is required, along with a 1340 SAT or a 30 ACT score. Only high school seniors who are American citizens or permanent residents may apply.

Those accepted will have to hit the ground running. The applications are being taken for the summer of 2016. Those 10 new students will have to skip summer vacation.

Ambika Mathur, dean of Wayne State’s graduate school, says the pre-med enrollees will shadow physicians at local clinics and also work with current medical students.

The cost is about $250,000 per student, and will be drawn from the university scholarship fund. Mathur says although participants will be sought nationally, efforts will be made to entice prospective physicians willing to practice locally.

A 2015 study conducted for the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2025 the United States will face a shortage of 46,000 to 90,000 physicians, with up to one-third of them primary care doctors. This is particularly alarming because America’s population is projected to reach roughly 350 million in 2025 with about 19 percent, or 67 million citizens, older than 65.

The Med-Direct program will complement Wayne State’s BUILD (Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity) program, which was started last summer with the goal of producing more research scientists.

The college has set a goal of 100 percent completion for those students who enroll. If some do drop out, they will be replaced.

It’s hard to imagine how Wayne State could better use its scholarship funds. The university has a respected medical school that provides residents to hospitals throughout the region. This program should keep that pipeline full at a time when American students are turning away from medical studies.

It’s not unusual for a college to go after the best and brightest students. But this takes that initiative to a whole new level. WSU should be commended for recognizing a looming crisis, and aggressively working to get in front of it.