More rheumatology slots available, filled on Specialty Match Day, but numbers well below need


Although more fellowships slots in rheumatology were available and filled during the Specialty Match Day for the 2019 appointment year, the numbers are still well below what will be needed to fill the physician shortfall in this area.

Dr. Beth L. Jonas

Dr. Beth L. Jonas

For the 2019 appointment year, there were 236 fellowship positions available, with 233 of them filled, up from 221 positions available and 218 filled on the previous year’s Specialty Match Day, according to results released by the National Resident Matching Program.

Adding 10 or even 20 a year “is still not going to make a dent” in the expected rheumatologist shortfall, Beth Jonas, MD, director of the Rheumatology Fellowship Training Program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said in an interview.

That being said, there are still positive messages to be taken away from the Specialty Match Day results.

“The rheumatology match was great this year,” Dr. Jonas said. “From the perspective of the quality of the applicant pool, it was very strong. The interest in rheumatology is very high. From the perspective of program directors, we had a lot of excellent applicants to interview and to choose from.”

She noted that in total there were 358 applicants who listed rheumatology as their preference for the 2019 appointment year, up from 313. Dr. Jonas also serves as chair of the American College of Rheumatology’s Committee on Rheumatology Training and Workforce Issues.

“The message here is that there are a lot more people who want to become rheumatologists than there are slots to train them,” she stated.

And the key reason more people aren’t being trained is money.

“There is capacity to train more people, but the challenge is funding those slots,” Dr. Jonas said, noting that the ACR is doing what it can to help fund fellowship slots, and the Arthritis Foundation has a new grant mechanism that has helped to fund new slots.

“But I think there needs to be other ways.”

She suggested that there should be more involvement from the federal government, perhaps through Medicare, and more involvement from local institutions.

Mona Singer, president and CEO of the National Resident Matching Program, highlighted rheumatology as a standout among the overall specialty matching programs for the 2019 program year.

“The specialty that has become more popular over the years is rheumatology, which I find interesting,” Ms. Singer said. “This isn’t the first year it has done well, but it has been on an upward trend.”

Overall, the programs that have been doing well, matching at a rate of 95% or better, have continued to see those high fill rates: allergy/immunology, cardiology, gastroenterology, hematology, oncology, pulmonary and critical care medicine, and endocrinology.

For the 2019 appointment year, there were a total of 5,881 applicants for 5,215 program slots, with 4,579 positions filled. The fill rate of 87.8% is unchanged from the previous year, when 5,491 applicants competed for 4,831 positions, with 4,242 slots filled.

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