The number of people applying to law schools is in steep decline. So says a recent post on a website called “The National Jurist.”

The post cited some remarkable data from the American Bar Association. In 2012, law school applicant numbers were down 14% from 2011 and 23% from 2010. For the fall of 2012, there were 44,481 first-year law students enrolled, down about 4,000 from 2010.

Many schools have decreased enrollments, with more than 90 trimming class sizes by more than 10%.

On January 2, the Wall Street Journal reported: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the economy will provide 21,880 new jobs for lawyers annually between 2010 and 2020; law schools since 2010, however, have produced more than 44,000 graduates each year.”

For the non-math majors, that’s a ratio of more than two graduates for every job.

There are way too many lawyers around anyway.

Could something like this happen in medicine? It might not be exactly the same, but an interesting dilemma is looming. A 2011 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine expressed concern that in a couple of years, the number of US medical school graduates will exceed the number of first-year residency training positions available.

In response to projected physician shortages, many medical schools have expanded their class sizes, and several new medical schools have opened or are soon to open.

But the problem is that many years ago, the federal government established a cap on the number of residency training positions in this country. And there are persistent rumors that spending on graduate medical education (GME) will be among the many future budget cuts. It is also not a “given” that existing residency programs could be expanded or more programs could be established even if funding became available.

Here is what Dr. Thomas Nasca, CEO of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, had to say in that NEJM article: “We estimate that … domestic production of medical school graduates [will] functionally surpass our current total number of GME postgraduate year-one pipeline positions (posts that lead to initial specialty certification) by 2015 or sooner.” This excludes 10,000 non-US citizen international medical graduates (IMGs) and 3,700 US citizen IMGs who seek GME posts in U.S. teaching hospitals.

In other words, not only will there not be enough residency training positions for graduates of US medical schools, there will be no positions at all for IMGs and US graduates of offshore schools.

Then there’s this: The other day, I heard an advertisement on the radio extolling the virtues of one of the new US medical schools and soliciting applicants for its “charter class of 2013.”

I have been a doctor for over 40 years. I’ve never heard of a US medical school advertising for applicants.

The rumor is that the school that is advertising may not be happy with many of its applicants so far.

Could this be a harbinger of things to come? What do you think?

Skeptical Scalpel is a recently retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last two years, he has been blogging at and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog averages 800 page views per day, and he has over 4,400 followers on Twitter.