Nevada medical school graduates face residency shortage, industry experts say

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Healthcare leaders across the U.S. are calling it “The Fauci Effect” — the increase in people applying for medical schools — and as reported, we are seeing it right here in Nevada. The phenomenon, of course, gets its name from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s most respected infection disease expert.

But industry experts said the Silver State doesn’t offer enough residency opportunities for graduates to stay local, which is culminating in an ongoing doctor shortage in the state.

Lauren Hollifield, a class of 2021 M.D. candidate at UNLV School of Medicine, said many future doctors, particularly those with specialties, will often move to Utah or California, because that’s where more opportunities are.

“My family is here, I want them to have good healthcare, and in order to have good healthcare, we have to train the resident physicians,” said Hollifield.

Hollifield, a fourth-year medical student and Clark County native, will be graduating in about three months. Now, she’s in the thick of applying for her post-graduate medical residency.

“Residency is a period of time — anywhere from three to seven years — where you really hone in on the skills of whatever specialty that you chose,” said Hollifield.

But she said Nevada doesn’t offer enough residency programs and positions, making it tough to stay in her home state. Some programs around the country accept up to 28 residents per class, according to Hollifield, whereas most programs in Nevada accept between five and 15. This, she said, is forcing many future doctors to move out of state.

“If we continue to increase the amount of medical schools, than you would subsequently need to increase the number of residency positions, it would only make sense that after people graduate medical school they’d have to go to residency,” said Hollfield. “So hopefully the government will give more funding to residency programs.”

Touro University CEO Shelley Berkley said Nevada’s doctor shortage is in large part due to the residency shortage.

“The national statistic is that 70% of doctors end up practicing where they do their residency,” said Berkley.

A 2020 report by the University of Nevada and the American Association of Medical Colleges shows Nevada ranks 48th in the country for primary care physicians per 100,000 people.

This shortage, Hollifield said, could inadvertently be impacting Nevada’s COVID-19 death toll.

“I think there’s a link between having chronic diseases, and not having them well-controlled, and having poor outcomes with coronavirus,” said Hollifield.

Berkley said the positions are scarce because it’s very costly to create these programs, and that’s why she said the hospitals have a challenge in creating them by themselves.

Nevada’s legislative session starts soon on February 1, and Berkley said she’s hoping the governor and legislators will consider funding for graduate medical education (GME), though she worries that, in a pandemic year, it will be unlikely.