The American healthcare system is facing a severe and ongoing challenge in the form of a growing doctor shortage. By 2030, there could be a shortage of as many as 120,000 physicians. As the United States population ages, more doctors will be needed to care for their emerging needs. Dr. James Hauschildt of Mason, Ohio, a medical professional and educator, explores the ramifications of the doctor shortage and offers possible solutions to this problem.
While the number of medical school graduates went up by 8 percent between 2013 and 2018 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, this increase in the number of physicians will not be sufficient to cover the higher demand going forward. When fewer students choose a medical career, there is greater pressure on the existing professionals.
Students may be turning away from medical careers due to the extreme amount of student debt that most medical students accumulate. With well-paying jobs waiting for them, the loans will be paid off if the doctor succeeds, but it represents a substantial financial risk in the short term.
Other reasons why students are not choosing the medical field include the extreme demands on a doctor’s time and attention. During residency, doctors face a punishing daily routine that leaves little time for sleep or personal life. Young doctors need to be prepared for the realities of entering the field.
As the Baby Boomers age, they will continue to need physicians’ services at a staggering rate. The elderly use medical services at a much higher rate than the general population. By 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be of retirement age. The composition of the people will shift to the point where there are more senior citizens than children. It will put a strain on health care systems, as well as eldercare communities.
Demand in many medical specialties has sharply risen as the rate of chronic illnesses has increased. Cardiologists, pulmonologists, orthopedic surgeons, and geriatrics are all needed to help treat the aging population. Recruitment focus has begun to shift toward these specialists.
Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure are also driving demand for doctors. While these diseases can be prevented through sensible living, many people find that these conditions become chronic. Endocrinologists are needed to deal with the increasing rates of diabetes across the United States.
Other problems that are on the rise in the United States include mental health and drug abuse. As the years go by, more mental health clinicians will be needed to combat existing shortages. As the drug epidemic continues to ravage the country, more doctors who specialize in addiction treatment will be required.
Dr. James Hauschildt recommends that more doctors be brought in from other areas of the world where there is less demand. Talented doctors can be welcomed into local communities, and their skills will go to good use. Another way to encourage people to enter the medical profession is through a program of student loan amelioration or forgiveness. If medical students were not subject to such high costs for their education, they might find that they are more willing to enter the field.
It is also hoped that offering more support to medical students and residents can prevent people from dropping out of their programs. Being a medical student is uniquely stressful, and many talented people who would make excellent physicians decline to enter the field.
Combating the Shortage
When the physician shortage is thoughtfully addressed, medical schools may be able to attract more potential doctors. The aging population makes it imperative that the number of doctors rises in the United States. More doctors should be encouraged to emigrate from other countries to shore up the numbers.
Clinicians like Dr. James Hauschildt encourage young people to consider a career in medicine because it comes with incredible job satisfaction. The dangers of doctor shortage can be managed with proactive methods.