Doctor Shortage: Primary Care Physicians Please Apply

More and more medical students are choosing lucrative specializations, but the country needs primary care physicians.

Waiting roomFewer doctors means crowded waiting rooms. Photo via Shutterstock

Your wait at the doctor’s office may soon be getting longer—a lot longer. The Washington Times reported a Senate statement saying the country needs 16,000 more primary care physicians to meet the current national demand for treatment, a demand that will only grow as newly-insured citizens under President Obama’s healthcare plan enter the system in the coming years.

In the article, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), chairman of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, said the shortage stems in large part from medical students’ growing desire to practice specialized medicine instead of primary care, contributing to a 70 to 30 ratio of specialized to general care doctors nationwide. Sanders explained in the Times report that many students are enticed by the fact that specialty doctors can make up to $3 million more than general practitioners over the course of their practice, a phenomenon largely attributable, he said, to the American Medical Association’s Relative Value Scale Update Committee being saturated with specialists. (The article noted that Sanders’ assertion was refuted by the committee, whose spokesperson explained that two primary care seats were added last year.)

Politico wrote today that further exacerbating the shortage is the lack of a viable task force. The National Healthcare Workforce Commission was created, with panelists appointed and all, nearly three years ago, but the report says little has happened since then. No funding has been approved for the group, and since its inception, 10 members’ terms have expired and been renewed. Politico quotes Sheldon Retchin, the commission’s vice chairman:

“This is clearly an opportunity missed,” said Retchin, vice president for health sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University and CEO of the VCU Health System. “It sure seems like a national blind spot. The time that we’ve lost while we’ve now agreed to go ahead with the largest health care expansion in the last two generations — time is short.”

Americans in need of healthcare will continue to suffer. Politico also states that nearly 57 million people are without adequate access to primary care, and Sen. Sanders’ Primary Care Access Report revealed that approximately 25 percent of the primary care physicians in the U.S. are nearing retirement. Sander’s report also says that the country will need 52,000 primary care doctors by 2025. Something needs to change—and fast.