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Dear medical students: our fates are being decided by Congress on March 1 — we don’t have time to dilly-dally, so here is a high-yield summary of this piece.

Congress may cut graduate medical education (GME) funding on March 1. (GME funds residency programs). Congress is considering cuts as high as 50%, which translates into thousands of residency programs and thousands of residency slots on the chopping block. That’s your future on the line. I’ll let the panic sink in for a moment. What can you do? Medical students across the nation are making their voices heard. You can, too. Take one minute and sign on to a pre-written letter to your legislators at www.savegme.org. Done? You have done your part to protect your future. You are awesome. What’s that? You posted this link on your Facebook so your peers will act, too? You’re a good man, Charlie Brown. Take the week off!

For those of you who are interested in learning more, here’s the back story:

1. The Problem: The U.S. is facing a projected physician shortage of 130,000 by 2025. Meanwhile, the Affordable Care Act will expand insurance coverage to 30 million Americans. Health care is not prepared to meet the demands of our nation. 2025 might seem far away, but in just two years the projected shortage is 62,900 physicians. Physician shortages will undoubtedly lead to compromises and lapses in patient care across the U.S. We are on the verge of a national crisis, my friends, and the time to act is now.

2. Partial Response: Medical schools have ramped up enrollment to meet the projected demand. In a 2011 survey, the AAMC projected that 4,888 new medical student slots will be created by 2016; as of 2011, medical schools have already created and filled 56% of these slots. The AAMC called for a 30% increase in enrollment by 2015, and the projected 4,888 slots adds up to a 29.6% increase. Not too shabby.

3. The Situation: Good, we’re headed in the right direction … right? Not quite: here is where the quagmire lies. Medical schools have expanded enrollment, but residency programs have not. Congress capped Medicare funding for GME in 1997, essentially freezing any substantial expansions of residency slots. And, on March 1, Congress will consider slashing those funds further. Cuts as high as 50% have been recommended by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission and the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. In a 2011 report, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education estimated that a 50% cut would slash 2,551 residency and fellowship programs and 33,023 GME positions.

4. Do Your Part: You are a medical student, so I know you are itching to know how we are going to fix the situation. If you haven’t already, take one minute to sign on to the letter at www.savegme.org. If you would, please tell your friends via Facebook as well. Your legislators are waiting to hear from you through www.savegme.org. I know this from firsthand experience! Through the American Medical Association Medical Student Section Advocacy Day, I went to Capitol Hill with fellow medical students two weeks ago and spoke with Senator Rob Portman’s staff about our concerns. We had a compelling discussion on what these cuts mean to our future, patient care, and, quite frankly, our national stability. Legislators are ready to listen and act on your concerns. The more letters we send in, the more they listen. I urge you to make your voice heard right now. Together, we can protect patient care and our future. Act now. Save GME.

Meena Thatikunta Meena Thatikunta (4 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

Northeast Ohio Medical University

Meena Thatikunta is a Class of 2015 medical student at Northeast Ohio Medical University in the 6-year accelerated BS/MD program. Meena enjoys writing about health policy, advocacy, and humanism in medicine--with a bit of humor. Pending her survival of medical school, she hopes to pursue neurosurgery or orthopedic surgery and found a media company which delivers health policy and advocacy content through innovative means. Meena's media experience includes television host, radio co-host, producer, writer, and web designer.

Meena is a recipient of the AMA Foundation's Leadership Award. She served as a Health Policy Fellow with the Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA) and currently serves as Vice Chair of the AMA Medical Student Section Committee on Legislation and Advocacy and Medical Student Representative to the OSMA's Focused Task Force on State Legislation.