The following editorial, written by CPMS Dean, R. Tim Yoho, D.P.M., M.S., was published in the January 2007 issue of APMA Today
Our Greatest Challenge
Our profession is shrinking before our eyes. The question is, what are we going to do about it and when? The number of graduates from podiatric colleges from 1986-1990 averaged approximately 640 per year compared to an average of 390 graduates per year either graduated or expected to graduate from 2005-2009. No matter what the reasons, this decline should be alarming to all in the profession. Think of the long-term consequences to the profession and the memberships of our professional organizations. Think about the political and legislative ramifications to a profession that appears to be in a state of decline. Think of the financial consequences to podiatric physicians who have spent a lifetime to build equity in their practices only to find a shortage of new graduates to take over.
For the podiatric medical profession to truly advance, the profession must significantly increase the size of our applicant pool to the colleges of podiatric medicine. I am not convinced that high fives are in order with a national applicant pool to the eight colleges/programs of slightly over 700 for the 2005-2006 enrollment cycle. Although this is an improvement from previous enrollment cycles, it is inconceivable that of all of the students who finish an undergraduate education having satisfied the requirements necessary to make application to podiatric medical schools, less than 1,000 applications are received annually by the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine.
Why only 700 applicants? Why is this profession, with all of its virtues, largely ignored by the vast majority of students pursuing careers in the health sciences? Where can we fine more students with similar interests, desires and needs in relation to a professional pursuit? We must identify our target audience and determine what makes them tick.
As allopathic and osteopathic medical professions gear up to increase the size of their classes or add new programs over the next ten years, podiatric medicine debates whether we should grant ourselves MD or DO degrees. Changing the initials of our degree is not the answer. Its not about the degree, it’s about increasing the size of our national applicant pool, and raising our educational standards and professional expectations. That’s what builds enduring credibility and influence.
Look at projected population pyramids or graphs of the United States. From 2000 to 2040 the population of the United States is expected to increase from 285 million to 370 million people. Diabetes is epidemic, life expectancy is increasing and people like to maintain an active lifestyle. These population increases and epidemiologic health trends suggests a tremendous opportunity for podiatric medicine to become the leader in foot and ankle medicine.
We have two types of residency training programs. We are eligible for active staff at medical centers with the ability to hold offices. We have admitting privileges. We have eight colleges/programs of podiatric medicine. The framework is in place for this profession to grow and further establish itself as a valued and equal member of the health care community.
To achieve this status we must grow not only in terms of training, but in size as well. We must increase the size of the applicant pool. We need to accept only those students possessing the academic skills to complete a rigorous podiatric medical curriculum. We need offer students exceptional learning experiences as podiatric medical students. We need to increase the number of residency programs in preparation for increased numbers of graduates, never to exceed residency training capacity. We need to increase the memberships to our professional organizations as the profession grows. And, we need to respect and value the DPM degree.
The efforts of the enrollment staff at each of the colleges, the AACPM staff and Betsy Herman are starting to make a difference, however, there needs to be a true national debate on the applicant pool issue, a needs assessment and a comprehensive plan of action where everyone in the podiatric profession has the opportunity to make a contribution. This issue must be the number one priority of the profession. This is a concern the entire profession can rally around, much like our allopathic and osteopathic colleagues do on a continuous basis to protect their interests and status when challenged. The biggest question is, who has the resources, resolve and leadership to pull it off?