New Jersey has a shortage of nearly 3,000 physicians, according to the New Jersey Physician Task Force of the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals. And that shortage could become critically worse if COVID-19 restrictions have a serious impact on medical school students who have to accumulate clinical hours for their accreditation.
The deans of Rowan University’s two medical schools are asking Gov. Phil Murphy to create a task force to address the threat of a shortage.
Unless accrediting bodies, government agencies, hospital associations and medical regulators come together to address a possible threat to clinical hours and accreditation, those numbers exacerbate the physician shortage, said Dr. Thomas A. Cavalieri, dean of Rowan’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, and Dr. Annette Reboli, dean of Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden.
“All these groups are stakeholders in this and need to come together to see to it that the medical schools are getting what they need in order to produce a physician workforce at the state and national level,” Cavalieri said. “If not, there’s a lot at risk. If we don’t address this issue, and we get hit with another pandemic, there will be a serious shortfall of appropriately trained physicians to respond.”
In the spring when the pandemic was at its height in New Jersey, third- and fourth-year medical students were prevented from performing clinical hours by hospital administrators because of the virus threat and a shortage of personal protection equipment.
All four deans of the state’s five medical schools — also Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick and Piscataway, and Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine in Nutley — supported that decision.
Most fourth-year students already had accumulated enough clinical hours to obtain accreditation. But now a decision needs to be made soon to make sure new fourth- and third-year students don’t fall behind, Cavalieri said.
“Most hospitals view their prime mission is their patients, and that’s as it should be,” the dean said. “Many of them now have a nationwide reluctance to have students come back.”
“I have to say hospitals in New Jersey are welcoming them back. But there are some hospitals that are now calling for different start times. It’s difficult to make sure that students are getting everything they need to graduate on time.”
While the state doesn’t have a contingency plan, the state’s other three medical schools do.
Hackensack Meridian has a simulation center that meets some accreditation requirements, according to the medical school’s contingency plan. But other in-person hours still would need to be met. Making that less of a challenge is that Hackensack Meridian Health has 17 hospitals throughout the state.