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Fewer future obstetricians are applying to train in Tennessee, study shows

Soon-to-be medical school graduates are showing less interest in Tennessee’s OB-GYN residencies, according to new research by the Association of American of Medical Schools.

The study took a nationwide look at residency applications for the 2023-24 academic year. It found that in states that still have abortion access, the number of medical school seniors applying to obstetric training stayed about the same year over year. But in the 14 states with abortion bans, applications dropped by about 7% for the academic year.

Here in Tennessee, the number is worse. In the most recent round, Tennessee’s residency programs saw a 20% drop in applications. About 175 fewer people sought training here.

Medical residents would not be allowed to fully train in abortion care; this is a state where performing the procedure is a felony — punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

“Because these policy decisions appear to affect where physicians plan to practice, state governments and health care leaders need to consider the potential impact of those decisions on the physician workforce,” the study’s researchers wrote.

They write that these applications give an early look at where future doctors will want to practice. They said there have been decreases for two straight years.

“Residency programs in states with complete abortion bans continue to fill their residency positions,” they wrote. “However, this additional year of findings suggests that the continued decreased interest of U.S. (medical school) seniors in training in states with abortion bans or restrictions may negatively affect access to care in those states.”

Tennessee is already struggling with access to maternity care. The March of Dimes found that more than 30% of Tennessee counties have no obstetric care in the county. Another 20% are considered low-access, which means the county has only one or two birthing centers or hospitals offering the service.

Catherine Sweeney is WPLN’s health reporter. Before joining the station, she covered health for Oklahoma’s NPR member stations. That was her first job in public radio. Until then, she wrote about state and local government for newspapers in Oklahoma and Colorado. In her free time, she likes to cycle through hobbies, which include crochet, embroidery, baking, cooking and weightlifting.
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