Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Physician Shortage

      In case you aren't aware, there will be a huge physician shortage in the upcoming years. The population is living longer thanks to advances in medical technology, but a larger elderly population means that there will also be increased costs and demands for medical care. The U.S. population has grown by 50 million since 1997. According to, it is estimated that the shortage of both primary care and specialty physicians will reach 63,000 by 2015 and 90,000 by the year 2020.
      The medical schools have been trying to do their part for the past few years, and many of them have increased the seats in their first year classes. New medical schools have also been opening throughout the country on a yearly basis. The annual Medical School Enrollment Survey conducted by the American Association of American Medical Colleges Center for Workforce Studies estimates that first year enrollment in medical school was projected to reach 21,434 by 2017-2018, which is a 30% increase from first year enrollment in 2002-2003. Unfortunately, the action taken by these schools is not helping to decrease the shortage because there are not enough residency positions available to train these extra doctors.
      As it stands currently, hundreds of medical students did not match into a first year residency position this year. Many people do not know this, but residency positions are funded by Medicare. Medicare and the taxpayer fund $9.5 billion per year to subsidize 94,000 teaching positions at teaching hospitals. Medicaid and other sources fund an additional 100,000 spots. These numbers have not changed since 1997, when The Balanced Budget Act froze the number of Medicare funded spots.
      Obviously, the deans of these growing medical schools are extremely concerned about the future of their graduates. It is not an easy task to get into medical school, and to graduate with around $250,000 in student loans and have no prospective training or job is a travesty for a medical student. It is also detrimental to the population for a potentially great young physician to be denied training.
      According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the first step to correct the situation would be for Congress to lift the cap on residency training positions. Otherwise, despite the efforts of the medical schools, there will not be a single new practicing physician in the United States. Thankfully, representatives Allyson Schwartz, a democrat from Pennsylvania, and Aaron Schock, a republican from Illinois, have introduced a bill entitled "The Training Tomorrow's Doctor's Today Act" to try to increase the number of training positions in the country. The bill will create 15,000 new spots around the country throughout a 5 year period. Unfortunately, the cost is estimated at $1 billion dollars per year. Sadly, the bill has not moved at all in the house. At the very least, government leaders are trying to work to change the situation, but until they do, there will not be enough physicians to care for the enormous number of patients there will be in the future. So, while America has the knowledge and potential to save the lives of many, until we are able to train more physicians, they will not be able to utilize their skills, and the people of America will suffer.

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