The other draft

Friday, April 13, 2007

The NFL draft is almost upon us and it allows teams to restock talent and fans to wonder what glory might visit their favorite team. And while those fans dissect player statistics and workouts, another draft was recently completed that will affect their lives more than they will ever know.

A couple of weeks ago, graduating medical students found out where they were assigned for post graduate training, the internships and residencies that give newly minted MDs the years of supervised training that turns them into specialists. The National Resident Match Program, which was established in 1952, allows teaching hospitals and the new grads to find each other. It’s a dance that begins with the medical student deciding what field of medicine might stoke his passion. Will it be a life in the operating room, or dealing with cancer patients, delivering babies or caring for families in rural communities?

Hospitals and universities have their own needs, looking for physicians to fill their training spots and at the same time, deliver care to their patients. Whether it’s a county hospital serving the poor, or a private hospital in a tony neighborhood, the Match is where the manpower is found.

After the docs make the rounds of hospitals that might interest them, they rank their choices. The hospitals also evaluate their applicants and come up with their own list. Computer matching decides who goes where. This year, almost 22,000 residency positions were available and US medical school graduates filled over 15,000 of them. The rest of the slots were taken by osteopathic students (DO), American docs that were trained at foreign medical schools and foreign medical graduates.

So why should you care? The match brings these new MDs to communities where they will live for three or more years as they complete their training. Primary care specialties like family practice, internal medicine or pediatrics take three years to complete. Surgery takes 5 years and subspecialty training adds years more. During this time, these docs start families, set roots in communities, and become comfortable with their expanding responsibilities and roles as physicians. More often than not, they end up practicing near where they trained.

This latest residency match has provided your community for with its medical care for the next generation. In July, look at the fresh faces on your hospital bulletin board and you may see your future surgeon or cardiologist or oncologist.

And it may seem like a stretch but the day may come where the mayor of your town strides to the microphone and solemnly announces: “with our first round choice in the draft, Sacramento chooses, from the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Jane Smith, gynecology.” The crowd roars and Salt Lake City goes on the clock.

It might make you think that health care is almost as important as football.

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