TALLAHASSEE — These are boom times for Florida's public medical schools.
They will most likely get $1 million more from the state this year, at a time when budgets are being slashed. And the House unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that gives Florida Atlantic University's Boca Raton campus its own M.D. program, adding 250 medical students to the state university roster.
Medical school enrollment in Florida is growing at the second-fastest rate in the country, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges.
Though to some lawmakers having more M.D.'s from state schools means more prestige, others fear that educating them might be a losing investment.
Analysts estimated that more than half of Florida's 800 medical school students do residencies in other states, significantly decreasing the chances of them practicing here. With a cost around $30,000 a year for students, some lawmakers question the anatomy of any greater push to generate more state-educated physicians.
"We got a problem in Florida," said Rep. Ed Homan, a Tampa Republican and an orthopedic surgeon. "We are now an exporter of doctors trained at our educational institution, at our expense. … We don't have the residencies set up to keep them in Florida."
Not everyone agrees the numbers are that simple. For example, three out of every four students at the University of Florida College of Medicine will go out of state for their residencies this year. But Dr. Michael Good, the school's dean, said students from out of state will fill their spots at local hospitals.
"What is important is that we're importing a physician work force," he said.
Four years ago, the American Association of Medical Colleges forecast a nationwide doctor shortage. The boomer generation will require more medical care as boomers get older. And as they age, so do their physicians, with fewer students to replace them.
Florida was one of the most egregious cases, said Dr. Atul Grover, the organization's chief advocacy officer. Currently, there are 252 physicians for every 100,000 people here, just below the national average.
But when it comes to in-state medical students, there were only seven students for every 100,000 people. Only two states have lower ratios.
As such, the association called for universities to up medical school enrollments by 30 percent, thinking there were exponentially more physicians than medical students.
The solution in the Legislature was to create medical schools, said Rep. William Proctor, who heads the House's budget committee for universities.
In 2009, the new medical schools at University of Central Florida and Florida International University received full accreditation. The decision was lauded by the medical field. In the past eight years, only four new medical schools were established in the country. Two were in Florida.
Altogether, they will get more than $300 million of state funds this year. That's one of every 10 dollars devoted to state universities.
"We want to reinforce those schools as best we can, making sure that the new schools are funded and the old schools retain their status," said Proctor, R-St. Augustine.
The medical degree program at FAU, which still awaits approval from the Senate, should cost the state no new money. For the past six years, the FAU program was affiliated with the University of Miami, which set up the students' clinical work, set their tuition rates and conferred their degrees.
The two schools severed their agreement earlier this year, with FAU maintaining its faculty and all the students in the former program. FAU lobbyist David Mann said the program is working to make it easier for the students to stick around, with lower tuition than UM and relationships with five local hospitals.
The school expects to bring 300 residency programs to the state, he said.