Medical residency programs and participation grew amid accreditor shift: GAO

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • A new government watchdog report found that the number of physician residency programs and residents in those programs rose 14% and 13%, respectively, in the five academic years between the announcement and completion of a shift to a single accreditor.
  • The U.S. Government Accountability Office sought to examine the programs’ transition from working with two accreditors to using only the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
  • The transition was finalized in July 2020. It brought programs for students pursuing a doctor of osteopathic medicine and a degree under a single accreditation umbrella.

Dive Insight:

Medical residency programs

ACGME and the American Osteopathic Association announced in 2014 that they would create a single accreditation system for graduate medical education by summer 2020. At the time, the reasons they cited for the change included the ability to lower accreditation costs, increase consistency in evaluations and offer students more opportunities.

However, some critics were concerned osteopathic residency programs might be eliminated as a result of the merger. The majority of residency programs were already accredited by ACGME before the change.

Around 70% of the residency programs that only AOA accredited the year the transition was announced to apply for ACGME recognition. Those 749 programs accounted for 90% of residents in the AOA-only programs. As of late June last year, the vast majority of those had been approved.

Another 79 AOA-accredited programs closed at the end of the 2019-20 academic year, the last year in which the organization accredited programs. And 11 programs plan to close after their current resident’s complete training. Separately, 161 programs were dually certified at the transition and thus did not need to apply to ACGME.

Meanwhile, 242 ACGME-accredited programs received osteopathic recognition from the accreditor. According to the National Resident Matching Program, the accreditation change contributed to a nearly 17% increase in the number of programs offering residency placements over five years.

According to data from the organization, a record number of students applied to residency programs this year, with solid gains among seniors seeking a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree.

The GAO found the number of osteopathic residents rose nearly 35% during the transition period, building on growth in residency programs before the period tracked.

NRMP reported slight declines in first-year matches among seniors pursuing either a medical doctor degree or a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree. However, the decreases were smaller than the overall 2.8% decline in the share of applicants matching. The percentage of graduates with first-year matches rose modestly for both groups.

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