The US is in need of about 100,000 doctors by 2030, which seems to reflect a significant shortage of primary care providers. Estimates range between about 8,000 and 40,000 too few primary physicians by 2030 and between about 30,000 and 60,000 too few specialty physicians.
Why is there a shortage?
While the number of physicians is not increasing, the demand for care is, further increasing the gap between available medical attention and the number of patients in need. While there are a number of theories about reasons for the shortage, but the most prominent driving factor is the aging boomer baby population. The baby boomer population is the largest generation. Not only are they growing old and in need of care soon, but the many who have been practicing physicians are also retiring and aging out of practice. As patients get older, they need more care, sometimes requiring two or three times as many services.
Why do some people say we have too many specialists?
Some argue that the U.S. has too many specialists. Although the latter supposition isn’t exactly true, the trend toward specialization is slowly affecting the ratio between general and specialized physicians. Many specialists are driven by significant increases in pay for special education and training. Given the extensive time and investment commitment to the education of any medical career, it’s easy to understand why a student tends to opt for a specialization.
Approaches to avoiding the shortage
The best defense against the shortage is to train and hire more physicians. Out of 35 countries, the US ranks 30th for medical graduates, reflecting a serious shortage of adequately trained doctors.
However, some arguments make a case for an adequate supply of physicians hindered by poor distribution. Some believe that we have enough doctors, but they are trapped in physician-congested areas. This leads many to a solution of redistribution, possibly incentivized by changes in salary in areas of over- or under-saturated medical staff.
A third solution could be to optimize mid-level practitioner availability and education. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners can cover much of the same general healthcare as doctors. If more people are directed toward these professionals, then the shortage might cease to be falling short of supply at all.
Another approach to remedying the perceived shortage of physicians in the United States’ healthcare system includes allowing more physicians to immigrate into the country.
Lastly, the healthcare education system could focus attention on the ratios between students entering general physician paths and those hoping to specialize. Evening out the ratios might help to ensure the availability of general practitioners.
In order to combat the physician shortage, multiple approaches will likely be taken to ensure that all patients receive their necessary care.
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