But promises from medical schools may not be enough for students, since their future careers depend on their residency. By law, doctors cannot practice without a license.
"Illinois is not making its case very well to prospective doctors and prospective residents," said Marc Lim, a senior medical student at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
Lim, who is interested in orthopedic surgery, said he interviewed with a dozen programs in and outside Illinois.
"If I have this two choices and the difference is that I can get to start practicing medicine immediately, it's not a hard choice," Lim said. "You always go where you can practice medicine right away."
Discussions between Illinois officials and doctors on how to adequately fund the licensing office began last year. Lawmakers and members of the Illinois State Medical Society have acknowledged that physicians' license fees should increase, but they cannot agree on how much. The major disagreement resides on whether the department should borrow $6.6 million to rehire the 18 staffers that were let go Jan. 15.
Lawmakers have contemplated two bills this year that could restore the finances of the struggling unit. Both proposals allow the department to borrow money and raise the licensing fees to pay back the loan. The $300 fee physicians currently pay for a three-year license hasn't increased since 1987.
Under a House proposal, the same license would cost $750. The Senate version puts a $700 price to the permit through June 2018. Payments would then fall to $500, after the office has achieved some financial stability.
But the medical society's vice president, Jim Tierney, told a Senate committee last week that the department should not borrow any money. Instead, he said, the state should repay the medical unit the money that previous administrations swept from its fund.