The future of the ID specialty depends on attracting the best and the brightest among the next generation of physicians and scientists to our field. As the professional medical society for the specialty, and as members, we all share a responsibility to promote our field to those still deciding on a career path and highlight the excitement and challenge of our specialty.
If the recent trends in numbers of applications to ID fellowship programs are any indication, we have more work to do. For the 2013 appointment year, infectious diseases was the only internal medicine subspecialty for which there were more fellowship positions available than applicants. Thirty-four percent of adult ID training programs and 38 percent of pediatric ID training programs did not fill all of their available positions. Of particular concern, the number of applicants to adult programs has declined for the past three years; pediatric applicant numbers were also down this year compared to the previous year.
The match results raise important questions: Are we not attracting enough people to the ID specialty, and if so, how can we do better? Are there perhaps too many ID training programs or fellowship positions being offered? Is the training on target and focused on the appropriate skills? Or is a combination of these factors contributing to these trends?
Finding answers to these questions is an important priority for the Society. While many factors likely play a role and need to be addressed, it’s clear that attracting people to the field is crucial for its long-term future.
Current efforts along these lines include IDSA’s Medical Scholars Program, which has awarded scholarships to more than 460 promising medical students since 2002, in support of work or study under the mentorship of an IDSA member or fellow. Separately, the Society has also established a new IDSA membership category for medical students and residents to foster interest in ID.
We are also working to increase the number of residents and medical students who attend IDWeek by reaching out to internal medicine residency programs. IDWeek 2013, Oct. 2-6, in San Francisco, will include a dedicated poster session for students and residents, in addition to a corresponding meeting session on careers in ID. For the first time, the Fellow’s Day Case Presentations pre-meeting workshop will also be open to residents who wish to submit cases.
Another issue on the minds of physicians-in-training is the level of expected future compensation, given the amount of debt faced by new physicians after completing their training. This is one reason why the Society is working to document the value ID specialists provide to patients and the health care system, through improved patient outcomes and reduced health care costs. An IDSA-commissioned study of Medicare data, to be published this year, indicates that early involvement of ID specialists in the care of patients with certain conditions is associated with lower patient mortality, lower readmission rates, and lower costs of care.
As we know, the ID specialty has a great story to tell. Our field is endlessly captivating, and is replete with emerging, unanticipated threats and challenges. It offers multiple career paths, ranging from clinical practice, to research, public health, and a variety of opportunities in global health. While some might have assumed that the appeal is obvious, our challenge is to find ways to share this story more effectively and attract the next generation of the "best and the brightest" to our field. We must do better!
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