In the November 10 issue, Davin Quinn wrote about the National Residency Matching Programs reasons for keeping the Match in place. While he correctly summarized some of the arguments on the webpage (savethematch.org), the issues surrounding the lawsuit against the Match go beyond simply doing away with a dated system. The motive for filing the lawsuit is easy to understand. It is money, or more specifically, the lack of it. Residents earn low incomes and usually have huge financial burdens in the form of medical school loans. But new interns are not at all like the Joads of Mr. Quinn's literary reference (who traveled to California, not Oklahoma, following promises of good wages).

Medical student know what they are getting into when they apply, and if they do not, they learn rather quickly. Low residency salaries and big educational loans are practically part of the curriculum. While we all worry about that segment of our training and how we will manage, I am not convinced that getting rid of the Match will solve our problems.

According to a study published in JAMA by economists Muriel Niederle and Alvin Roth (JAMA 2003; 290:1153-1154), fellowship salaries are unrelated to the presence of a match program. They suggest that eliminating the match for residencies will not necessarily increase resident salaries. Critics of this study maintain that the fellowship market cannot be compared to the residency market. Niederlie and Roth argue that comparisons of both fellowship and residency programs before and after adoption of a match program, as well as similar studies in the British medical market indicate that instituting a match actually benefits residents and fellows. They conclude that there is no evidence to support the claim that the match keeps salaries low. (On the other hand, the AMA is listed as a defendant in this case, so it's not surprising they would print this. Coincidentally, Dr. Roth is the author of the algorithm used to match students with residencies).

If you believe that getting rid of the Match will raise salaries regardless of what these economists claim, there are implications for the hospitals that might make the situation unpleasant for both future residents and patients. An increase in salaries would place financial burdens on hospitals already in fiscal trouble. Some might decide to decrease the number of residents they take, or even get rid of their programs altogether. While the reduction in the number of residency spots might be good for the compensation of those who are still left standing, the ultimate result would be fewer physicians trained and decreased access to care.

While residency reform is clearly desired, a lawsuit is a bad way to go about it. Besides the AMA, the defendants include the AAMC, NRMP and the American Hospital Association as well as numerous institutions, including BIDMC, Boston Medical Center and MGH. The plaintiffs are not only seeking an injunction on the match program, but monetary damages as well. All residents enrolled in ACGME-accredited residency programs and subspecialty fellowships since 1998 (~200,000 people) would be eligible to participate. In return for a small reimbursement to the residents, a victory or other settlement could do significant harm to the medical system, especially when lawyers take 1/3 in fees.

The new 80-hour work week might be the first step in the direction towards a residency reform that includes better pay. While it might take longer to accomplish using administrative associations, a solution worked out by physicians instead of lawyers and judges sounds more beneficial in the long run. Until then, we might just have to take Dean Cox's advice and "suck it up."

Published 12.08.03
Today's Talks 01.12.04
Tuesday, Jan. 13
"Could You Lend A Hand?: Talking to Your Jewish Patients About Organ Donation"
Richard Luskin, Executive Director, and Pamela Albert, Director of Donor Family Services, New England Organ Bank
HMS Maimonides Society
12:30-1:30 pm, MEC 426
Catered lunch served
Email Yana_Pikman@student... for available spots.

"The Impact of Illness on Your Patient's Sex Life: Practical advice to help patients express sexuality during illness and disability"
Judy Ellman, Grand Opening and Fenway Community Health
Sexual Health Awareness Group
12:30-1:30 pm, MEC 446
Lunch provided.

Wednesday, Jan. 14
"Relational No More: Defensive Autonomy in Middle-Class Women"
Lynne Layton, Ph.D., HMS Ass. Clinical Professor
Psychiatry Grand Rounds
12:00pm, Macht Auditorium, Cambridge Hospital

Thursday, Jan. 15
"Milestone Symposium Series: Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine"
Susan Dymecki, Douglas Melton, Stuart Orkin, David Scadden, Irving Weissman, Leonard Zon
8:00 am-12:30 pm, New Research Building Auditorium, 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur Web-based RSVP to www.hms.harvard.edu/ milestone/mile_registration.html or contact HMS Office of Public Affairs at 617-432-0442.

Copyright The Weekly Murmur 2003