What Can the Unmatched Seniors Tell Us?

18 03 2013

Yesterday, after the mayhem and jubilation of celebrating a successful match at the Pritzker School of Medicine with our students, I went onto Twitter to follow the #match2013 hashtag to understand what the reactions were.  Most were positive, but one headline caught my attention ‘In Record-Setting ‘Match Day,’ 1,100 Medical Students Don’t Find Residencies.”

It is true this was the largest match because it was “All-in” – programs either were in the match for all their positions (including international medical graduates or IMGs) or they were not.  Obviously, many programs put more positions up for grabs in the Match.  After I reposted this article to Twitter, there were many theories and questions about who these unmatched students were and why  – some of which I have tried to answer to the best of my ability below.  I welcome your input as well.

  • Are these IMGs?  This number is US Senior medical students who have been admitted and graduated from US medical schools but now have no place to go to practice medicine.
  • Does this include those that entered the “scramble” now called SOAP. Technically, those that entered SOAP and were successful would have been counted as “matched” on Friday.   Last year,  815 Us seniors went unmatched after the SOAP.
  • Did they choose to go into competitive specialties? We have to wait for the 2013 NRMP statistics, which will likely address this.  The 2012 data shows that more unmatched seniors did choose to go into competitive fields.  Last year, the % unmatched is much higher for students applying to radiation oncology, dermatology, and competitive surgical fields for example.
  • Did they go unmatched to due to poor strategy or poor academic performance? While poor strategy such as ‘suicide’ ranking only one program is related to the risk of going unmatched, the truth is getting into residency is competitive and there are some who will not match because of poor academic performance. Some even argue that medical schools have little incentive to fail students and a portion of these students should not be graduating to begin with.
  • If they had gone into primary care, would they would have matched?  I hear this myth that program directors in primary care fields only take international medical graduates (IMGs) since not enough US medical graduates apply.   This is due to the largely untested assumption that any US Senior would be preferred to an IMG.  However, I personally know program directors who would definitely take a seasoned and high performing IMG over a below-average US Student.   The reason this is important is the rationale for not lifting the GME cap is that we have 50% of certain fields filled by IMGs and those spots would naturally be filled by US grads. Interestingly, many of these spots happen to be primary care driven fields.   Yet, it is still unclear if US Seniors will displace IMGs for spots in IMG oriented residencies.  It is also unclear if they will be willing to apply to programs that typically cater to IMGs, since they are often not considered as prestigious or geographically desirable to US students.
  • Is this related to the lack of GME spots? Certainly, it is true that more effective career advising may have resulted in applicants being more strategic about their rank list and not reaching for a competitive field.  However, we cannot ignore the supply/demand side of this equation.  At a time when there is a shortage of physicians and a call to increase the number of physicians, the US medical school system by responded to this call.   New medical schools have opened.  Existing medical schools have increased their enrollments.  So, there are now more US Seniors entering the match and there will be even more in the future as new medical schools mature their entering classes to graduating students over the next four years.  Given that the supply of matched candidates includes both foreign-born IMGs and US-born IMGs, there are more candidates than spots.  And while many believe IMGs will be the ones that get “squeezed out” in this shortage situation, again this is an untested assumption.  It is also important to recognize that IMGs often play a significant role in ensuring primary care for rural populations and underserved communities,which are often not geographically desirable by US graduates.

 We are left with a fundamental question:  Do we owe it to our entering medical students who successfully graduate from medical school to have a residency spot?   At a time when we have a shortage of physicians and a call for medical schools to increase in size, should we not expand our residencies?   Unfortunately, GME funding is on the chopping block because of the belief that too much money is being wasted on residency training.  Moreover, hospitals seem less enthusiastic about expanding residencies, as it is not as much of a bargain due to caps on hours residents work, and all the other new accreditation standards for residency training.

There is a potential solution.  The “Training Tomorrow’s Doctors Today Act” by Reps. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), and the “Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2013” sponsored by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would enable training 15,000 more physicians over 5 years.   Moreover, spots would be distributed to programs and specialties in critical shortages, like primary care.

Given the time that it takes to train a physician, now is the time to act to ensure we have the doctors we need for the future.

 –Vineet Arora MD MAPP





Where are the Lollipop Men in Healthcare?

9 04 2012

I recently watched Dr. Atul Gawande on video describe how what American healthcare needs is pit crews and not cowboys.  This sentiment is also memorialized in his thought-provoking writings for the New Yorker.

Interestingly, Dr. Gawande is not the first person I have heard to suggest such a thing.  A colleague named Dr. Ken Catchpole actually studied Formula 1 pit crews and used the information to guide improvements in pediatric anesthesia handoffs.  His observations were astounding and really highlighted how the culture of medicine is different from Formula 1. In Formula 1, pit crews have a ‘fanatical’ approach to training that relies on repitition.   In healthcare, the first time we often do something is “on the fly”.  Moreover, on-the-job training usually means ‘checking the box’ by attending an annual patient safety lecture.   Perhaps the most important was the role of the “lollipop man” in pit crews.   And yes, even thought it’s a funny name, it’s a critical job.   As shown in the video, the Lollipop man is responsible for signaling and coordinating to the driver the major steps of the pit stop.  When it is safe to step on the gas, the Lollipop man will signal to the driver.  Sounds like a thing so perhaps it can be automated.  Wrong.  When Ferrari tried replacing the Lollipop man with a stop light that signaled the driver, the confusion created (does amber mean stop or go?) led to a driver leaving the pit with his gas still connected.  Quickly after this incident, Ferrari announced it would go back to the tried and trusted Lollipop “hu”man.

So, who are the Lollipop men (or women) in healthcare?  Turns out that Dr. Catchpole and his team observed that it was often unclear who was leading the handoff process that they were observing in healthcare.  With team training and system reengineering, Dr. Catchpole’s team was able to reorganize the pediatric handover so there was a Lollipop man (anesthesiologist) at the helm.

While these handoffs represent a critical element of healthcare communication in a focused area, it is symbolic of a larger problem in healthcare – we are still missing “Lollipop men” to coordinate healthcare for patients across multiple sites and specialties.  This is even more critical on the 2-year anniversary of healthcare reform and this month’s match results. At a time when we need to cultivate and train more “Lollipop men” to coordinate care for patients, we have had stable numbers of students who enter primary care fields.   And like the lessons from the Ferrari team, it is doubtful that a computer (even Watson who is now working in medicine apparently) will be able to do the job of a Lollipop man.

So, how can we recruit more Lollipop men?  While it is tempting to blame the rise or fall of various specialties and market forces, it is important to recognize that being this is a difficult job to do when the Lollipop is broken or even nonexistent.  Without the tools to execute the critical coordination that Lollipop men rely on, they cannot do their job.  So, the first order of business to ensure that the Lollipop, or an infrastructure to coordinate care for patients through their race that is their healthcare journey, exists.  As the Supreme Court debates the future of the Accountable Care Act, there is no greater time to highlight the importance of the Lollipop.

–Vineet Arora MD





Transforming Medical Education: Trust, Time, Teams & Technology

28 11 2011

This past Thanksgiving, I was able to reflect on the always jam-packed and inspiring Association of American Medical Colleges 2011 Meeting that took place earlier this month in Denver.  The theme of the meeting was transformation.  It was certainly an interesting theme with the undertones of economic recession and the GME funding crisis- and that was before the failure of the Supercommittee to reach a resolution.  So, how does medical education need to transform?  In more ways than one, it turns out.  So here are just 4 that were the recurring themes of the meeting and being a fan of alliteration, they all begin with “T”.

  • Trust – it was clear that we need to restore the Americans people trust in physicians and in the medical education process.  While students enter medicine to make a difference, something that they see in their journey to becoming a physician makes them jaded and they sometimes lose sight of their initial intention. Is it debt, burnout, role models…Or likely some combination of the 3? It does not matter, because we have to restore their faith in teaching– yes teaching.  Teaching is the heart and soul of our medical education and it is sometimes the easiest to lose in an academic health center focused on NIH dollars or US news world report rankings.  In addition to teaching our students, it is time to teach another constituency, our patients and Congress about the critical need for medical education.   And in fact, advocacy is something we need to be teaching our own trainees so they can engage in the dialogue regarding the future of healthcare.
  • Time- perhaps the most radical proposal advanced was by Victor Fuchs who suggested that we radically redesign medical school to have medical students specialize 2 years after medical school and enter specific pathways like they do in many other countries and in other fields.  I’m all for shortening dwell time for our medical trainees, but I am not so sure that young people are ready to make a serious commitment about what they want to do at such an early age.  There has to be a middle ground since at the same time, one of the most well attended sessions was “who cares about the 4th year of medical school?” which included many insightful comments about the need for reflection and consolidation of core skills.  So, clearly not all time is easily tossed to the waste side.
  • Teams- given the projected shortage of over 90,000 physicians by 2020, it is important to reorganize care into teams.  While there is a lot of controversy about what to call nurses who have PhDs, that was not the focus of the meeting. It was about how can you encourage everyone to practice to their highest level of certification.  Team based competences have actually been developed by several groups and have been advanced by many schools with inter professional learning.  One difficulty we face at home is that we don’t have allied health professions, but we are brainstorming how to involve actual nurses and pharmacists in training medical students.
  • Technology -there was a lot of discussion about technology to boost medical education.  There was even a technology in medical education abstract session moderated by @motherinmedicine and including podcasts, iPads, and social media in medicine.  Perhaps the most interesting speaker was Chuck Friedman at the University of Michigan who is the former technology czar of the US and eloquently highlighted the need for moving medical education from wrote memorization to a distributed knowledge where the most important information future physicians will need to know is not what the information is off the top of their head BUT how to access information.  He went so far to say testing would move to “unassisted testing” followed by “cloud-supported testing” which would then merge into a pass or fail based on performance on both.  I know all of us who certified or recertified recently would welcome assistance from the cloud- it is after all the closest approximation to real medicine.  However, my hands down favorite moment of this session was when someone astutely asked what about these physicians when the power goes out or when the computer system fries.  His response was simple and so spot on… “Dont get me started on the state of IT in our teaching hospitals”.
So, while we just celebrated a holiday and accompanying ritual to give thanks, it is now time for medical educators to transcend the traditional status quo and instead test novel techniques to transform medical training — not only to restore public trust but so we can also train the trainees who will treat us in the future.
–Vineet Arora MD




Advocate to Preserve Residency Funding

30 10 2011

bills,budgeting,businesses,cash,cost cutting,currencies,dollars,savingsSo, you have probably heard about the Supercommittee (gang of 12) and the need to brace for massive cuts to control federal spending.  But, do you know that the chief target is RESIDENCY TRAINING!   That is right.   Funding for residency largely comes from Medicare, and the general concern is that they are paying too much and not getting their money’s worth.  Of course, this comes at a time when there is a shortage of residency spots given the expansion of US medical schools, and a dire need for physicians, especially in primary care, to meet the needs of healthcare reform.

So, in this perfect storm, 40 medical groups (yes, there was that much consensus) sent a letter to the Supercommittee pleading with them not to cut GME funding.   Now the situation is dire enough that the AAMC advocacy leaders are in high gear encouraging those in graduate medical education to encourage their residents to write to their Congressman.  (And yes, if you live in a Supercommittee state, its even more important for you to do this).

So if you are a resident or future resident or can sympathize with the need to have future physicians, now is the time to take action.   For my fellow medical educators out there, you don’t need to be left out.  The American College of Physicians has a very broad (don’t need to be an internist)  easy-to-use advocacy website to shoot of a quick note to your Representative and Senator about the need to preserve GME funding.

Medical educators have actually started a dialogue about the role of advocacy in medical education.  Specifically, the Editor of Academic Medicine has challenged us to come up with how advocacy should properly be integrated into medical training.  I can think of no other way than advocating for preserving funding for the system by which we train our nation’s future physicians.

Vineet Arora MD

(AAMC email encouraging residents to take action)

***************************************************************

Dear Resident:

I encourage you to take a few minutes to  visit the AAMC Legislative Action Center (http://capwiz.com/aamc/home/), select “Residents”,  and send an electronic letter opposing cuts in Medicare funds that support residency programs.   With the zip code you enter, the letter will be sent automatically to your Senators and Representatives urging them to oppose GME cuts as part of deficit reduction.  PLEASE USE YOUR PERSONAL EMAIL ADDRESS (eg, gmail.com), AND NOT YOUR INSTITUTIONAL EMAIL ADDRESS.

Congress is discussing a deficit reduction proposal that would cut funding by as much as 60%, or $60 billion, for Graduate Medical Education (GME) and jeopardize residency training programs across the country. Given the current and growing shortage of physicians, GME cuts will reduce access to health care and threaten the well-being of all Americans.

It is most important that residents enrolled in programs in Arizona, California, Washington State, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Montana, Michigan, Maryland, Texas, or South Carolina, voice your concerns.    You are represented by members of the “Super Committee” that will finalize the deficit reduction plan.

Thank you for your help.

Atul Grover, M.D.
Chief Advocacy Officer
AAMC





Differences Between Real & Fake Patients

9 10 2011

Each morning this week, I am rounding on a busy inpatient general medicine service in an academic hospital seeing real patients.  Each night this week, I am also studying for the internal medicine recertification exam where I am doing countless MKSAP questions which present the diagnostic and management conundrums of “fake patients.”   While there are a variety of things I could say about the process, one thing is clear- the real patients don’t ever come as neatly wrapped and easy to figure out as the pithy and succinct questions based on fake patients in the prep questions!   Perhaps the most distinct differences are that real patients suffer from real problems that plague real people…and that is of course why one of the most important lessons for our medical students is that being a good doctor is more than just how well you do on a standardized exam.  It is knowing how to mobilize a team and resources to tend to all of these problems in the same patient.   Here are just a few ways in which the real patients we see differ from testable “patients.”

  • Social problems trump medical problems – Many of the patients we see suffer from poor health literacy, lack of insurance, access to safe housing, affordable healthy food, and access to healthcare outside of the hospital that prevents optimal care and treatment of their medical conditions.  Understanding how to bring up and address these problems is equally important to design a customized care plan for a patient that will ensure their most optimal recovery and health outside of the hospital.
  • Caregiver support- Many older patients who are chronically ill are cared for by family members who suffer a lot of stress.  This stress manifests in different ways and sometimes you see that sigh of relief when they come to the hospital since they are in need of as much care and support as their family member.  Arranging home services and providing and ensuring caregiver support is a key part of hospital care these days.
  • Insurance compatibility – Most patients require services that go beyond hospital discharge, such as home IV antibiotics or short-term rehabilitation stays after hospitalization to recover.  In addition, patients often require close follow up after hospitalization. Unfortunately, arranging such things for patients who are uninsured or underinsured is increasingly difficult.  Perhaps this is one thing that we can hope to change with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act- lets at least hope so.  But for now, it’s sometimes a guessing game how to piece together the most logical plan that will also be optimally covered.
  • Medical necessity – These days, patients can’t stay in the hospital to “recover” unless it meets strict criteria for inpatient admission.  This process is audited by private contractors so hospitals are required to follow strict guidelines or face harsh penalties from Medicare.  The challenge is that for a variety of social issues documented above, patients may not be ready to go home (caregiver not ready, patient lacks understanding regarding illness, etc.) but they have to go home or be faced with footing the bill for their stay.   Given that rock and a hard place, it’s a difficult position for any doctor to be in.

Because medicine does change and evolve very quickly, we refresh our medical knowledge every 10 years by testing our clinical acumen through ‘caring’ for fake patients on a written exam.  But, a written exam can only go so far…Given the sea changes occurring on a daily basis in our healthcare delivery system, it is equally important to stay up-to-date on systems-level changes that influence how we can actually provide care for real patients.  After all, both are necessary for good doctoring.

Vineet Arora, MD





Student Doctor or Medical Student? And Other Teaching Hospital Names

14 02 2011

I recently saw a post in Yahoo questions entitled, “Is it illegal for a medical student to introduce themselves as “Doctor” before they have received their MD?”  One of the answers that was rated highly was “I think it is more unethical than illegal.”  Clearly, if a student is deliberately misrepresenting themselves as a ‘doctor’, it is grounds for disciplinary action.  More often than not, this misrepresentation is not deliberate on the part of the student.  For example, some of our prior work demonstrates that medical students often report that they were introduced by other physicians as a doctor to a patient and that to a lesser extent, students may not correct someone who mistakes them to be a doctor. 

Complicating matters is the propagation of the term “student doctor” at some institutions which is especially problematic.  After all, how many patients will be quickly discern that ‘student doctor’ actually refers to ‘medical student’ and not a ‘doctor’?  Unfortunately, patients who hear the term ‘student doctor’ may not hear the term ‘student’ and just zero in on the ‘doctor’ part, as they often wait patiently for their doctors to see them in the hospital.   This brings us to the problems of how doctors are named in teaching hospitals.  The system could not be more confusing.  

  • Interns – This is probably one of the most confusing terms in a teaching hospital.  Interns are doctors who have graduated medical school and are in their first year of a residency training program.  Of course, ‘intern’ is also the universal term for all those college students trying to get a short term experience on their resume by ‘interning’ there first.  So, why would a patient think an intern is a doctor?   After all, you would never put your faith in the legal ‘intern’ at the law firm to defend you in a lawsuit.   To make matters worse, there is the opposite problem.  Intern is often mistaken for ‘internist’, who is actually a doctor who has completed their internal medicine residency and otherwise a ‘doctor for adults.’  (Patients are more familiar with their “PCP” or ‘primary care physician,’ which could refer to either an internist or a family physician).    
  • Residents – Residents can refer to any doctor who has graduated from medical school and is in a residency training program (including interns). The term “residents” originates from William Osler’s era when residents did live in the hospital.  Of course, they don’t live there anymore  which would violate worker’s rights not to mention their regulated duty hours… but we still call them residents.  The other name residents are often referred to is as “PGY1” (post graduate year) which is certainly not an improvement.  
  • Housestaff – One of our premed college students just asked me what this term was this week.  I explained that while this does sound like the butler, maid, or cook a fancy estate, this term actually refers to the hospital as the “house” that the residents live in as the staff.  So all residents (including interns) are part of the ‘housestaff’. 
  • Fellow – This is perhaps one of the most disconcerting names for a physician as it may sound like it refers only to male doctors (and conjure up images of young man from England with excellent manners i.e. he’s a fine ‘fellow’).  In fact, a fellow is a doctor who has completed residency and is getting advanced training in a certain subspecialty. 
  • Attending- Attending to what you may wonder?  The attending physician is actually the doctor who has completed training and is legally responsible for the care provided by residents.  In other words, this is the ‘boss’ doctor as my residents sometimes introduce me to the patients on our team. 

A few years ago, we tried to improve the situation for our patients by having doctors introduce themselves with baseball cards with their pictures on the front and the roles of the doctors were displayed on the back.  While we were able to increase the percentage of patients who knew who their doctor was, we were surprised to discover that fewer patients stated they understood the roles of the doctors.   How did we make it worse?  Perhaps ignorance is bliss.  By trying to unlock the secrets of these names, patients realized the names we use in teaching hospitals are confusing.

However, this confusion is more than just a name, it is also a patient safety issue.  After 18 year old Lewis Blackman died in a South Carolina teaching hospital without an attending evaluation when his family kept asking to see the doctor, a new law in his honor aims to address the issue.  It requires that patients receive written materials describing the roles of the trainees on their team and also how to contact the attending if they have a concern.  More recently, the ACGME, which accredits US residency programs, has included a mandate in its now infamous policy restricting resident work hours that states “residents and faculty members should inform patients of their respective roles in each patient’s care.”  While it is not certain how this will be implemented at every teaching hospital across the land, it’s certainly time to make our naming system easier and more transparent for patients to understand.

 –Vineet Arora, MD





Holiday Wish List for Medical Education

24 12 2010

It’s the holidays which means that the students are on vacation and faculty have a little more time to unwind.  Unfortunately, residents are still hard at work but celebrate the holidays in their own way in the hospital as we have discussed before.  I’ll be joining them January 1st but for the moment get to enjoy some time off as well. 

Even though medical schools have closed their doors for 2010 and faculty are getting much needed rest, it is time to reflect on what is needed for medical education in the New Year and beyond.  While it’s been a banner year for healthcare reform, there are still some issues that are looming large for medical education, especially graduate medical education.  It’s important to revisit these issues and especially focus on what the ‘wish list’ as medical education prepares for the ‘twenty-tens’.

  1. Funding to Meet the ACGME 2011 Duty Hour Requirements   With 6 months and counting to the implementation of shorter hours for resident physicians, budgets are getting made now for the new fiscal year.  On top of that list in teaching hospitals is how to make ends meet with residents who work shorter hours.  Residents are low cost labor compared to hospitalists and physician extenders who are their most likely work substitutes.   With the overall price tag set at over 1 billion for duty hour compliance, obtaining funding is not easy.  However, securing the appropriate financing for these solutions is critical to ensuring that residents are not doing the same or more work in less time.  Increasing resident work intensity may undermine any potential improvements in patient safety and resident education.   To make matters worse, funding may be harder to obtain than ever since funding for graduate medical education by CMS is under threat of redirection.  
  2. A Curriculum to Teach Doctors to Practice Cost Conscious Medicine  With an unprecedented focus on how to contain costs and ‘ration’ care, we are missing one key piece of the puzzle – how to teach young physicians and physicians-in-training how to do this effectively.   Most faculty physicians do not know the costs of the tests that they order making it necessary to create off-the-shelf curricula in this area.  To make matters worse, cost of laboratory tests can vary by region and hospital, making a standard curriculum challenging to implement.  Nevertheless, overreliance on medical testing has run rampant in teaching hospitals, largely due to the lamented “demise of the physical exam”.  If one way to teach cost-conscious medicine is invest in the low cost physical exam skills, we can all learn from the Stanford 25 that is being resurrected by acclaimed physician author educator Abraham Verghese.   While we improve physical exam skills and hopefully change the incentives, we will still need new tools and tips for how to train the cost conscious doctors we wish to produce.  One possibility is through the use of narratives – A new group called Costs of Care launched an essay contest to and will be periodically posting stories to help raise awareness. 
  3. More Residency Spots – As we’ve discussed, without more spots for all those new medical schools opening their doors, medical school graduates will soon face unprecedented competition during the Match without a corresponding increase in residency positions.  While the assumption is that the International Medical Graduates will be squeezed out at the expense of the US graduates, this is not entirely a given.  More than a few program directors of IMG exclusive residency programs say they will continue to take International Medical Graduates.  Regardless, it’s the US that loses in the end given the projected doctor shortage and the only pathway to licensure is via a US residency.  While CMS is exploring ‘redistributing’ spots to primary care, the general consensus is that more will be needed.
  4. Student Debt Relief  Medical student debt continues to plague US education.  While some programs, such as the National Health Service Corps, have been expanded to help address this issue, it is still important to expand such programs to reach a larger audience of medical students.  One novel way to do this is to pair student debt relief with service, an idea put forth by the Editor of Academic Medicine as this year’s “Question of the Year.”  Many schools responded, including our own, which created the REACH (Repayment for Education to Alumni in Community Health) Program to help.  To achieve a larger scale impact, more programs on a federal and state level are needed.  In the interim, the AAMC “FIRST” initiative is a terrific resource to help students navigate their debt and keeps up to date stats about the situation.
  5. Making Primary Care as a Desired Career  The shortage of primary care physicians will devastate the US as more patients become insured and the population ages.  One of the central models for healthcare reform is the spread of the patient-centered medical home, led by a primary care physician.   While the future roles of nursing is explored and potentially expanded to meet this need, it will not be enough to care for complex patients with multiple disease and medications which require care coordination.  So, if primary care is so important, why are more students not choosing to go into it?  One striking finding in the recently released 2010 survey results of all entering medical students is the number of students who declared they would subspecialize.  12% were already on the “ROAD” (rads, ophtho, anesthesia, derm) while an additional 9% were budding orthopedic surgeons.  Meanwhile, 8% were interested in family medicine.  Although 18% declared an interest in internal medicine, 2/3 of these will ultimately subspecialize too.   So what do entering students already know about these specialties?  Well, the elephant in this room here is the income gap between primary care and specialists.   As long as this disparity exists coupled with the debt discussed above, it is difficult to dissuade career decisions, especially when they are made this early!   No one wants to discuss this since it pits doctor against doctor but the time for this discussion is long overdue.

While it would not be wise to wait up for Santa to deliver on these wishes tonight, keeping our focus on these issues in the New Year will surely help usher in the next decade of medical education.      

–Vineet Arora, MD








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