Breaking Down the Physician Shortage

The physician shortage

Fact: Physician demand in the United States has continued to grow faster than its supply. According to a recent Physician Workforce report the demand has lead to a shortage of physicians that is expected to fall between 62,000 and 95,000 physicians by 2025. When you do the math, that is roughly a shortage of 10,000 physicians per year. Several states are beginning to experience this shortage, meeting just under half of their primary care needs. The need for care is increasing as the old and sick with chronic diseases are living longer. To reverse the effects of the upcoming and current shortage, a few things need to change.

Unsatisfied young medical students giving the thumbs down

Due to the limited residency slots, not enough medical students are getting the training they need. In 1997, Congress capped the number of slots by freezing its funding. This is just another bump on the road of an already complicated one to become a physician in the U.S.. For those with a different approach, it seems to be an impossible task. Not enough medical schools consider applicants of different educational and community service backgrounds, such as the Peace Corps. Without a traditional medical educational background, students are forced to seek training abroad, most commonly, in the Caribbean.

As far as those who are graduating from those sought-after medical schools and residencies, most graduates tend to look and find work in the general region of those schools. Now here’s the problem, the majority of these schools are based in the northeast leaving the rest of the country to experience the shortage. Rural areas are the first to feel the effects. There are some programs that are trying to alleviate this problem. Some programs are offering graduates to pay for their school as an incentive. Yet, there is still the small fact that becoming a primary physician means a much lower pay compared to a specialist.

Possible solutions

Unfortunately, whatever steps we take today to solve this problem, we would still see a significant shortage by 2025. However, we could soften the blow. If Congress would to lift the residency cap by 3,000 a year, it is estimated to cost $1 billion annually. That price tag alone is a big indication that Congress cannot solve this shortage alone, so we must look to other alternatives. It may not help the budget, but integrating technological innovations would create a more efficient and effective care. Changing the medical system as we know it, would allow us to use untapped resources. There are currently thousands of Americans taking the long route to become a physician in the U.S.. They are often coming up short or giving up the dream all together because of the high standards set by the industry. The Americans that know this all too well, are the foreigners that have years of experience as a physician in their native countries.


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