Baltimore Sun Examines Potential U.S. Physician Shortage
The Baltimore Sun on Sunday examined indications of a physician shortage that potentially could increase over the next few years as baby boomers grow older and require more care. According to the Council on Graduate Medical Education, there could be a shortage of as many as 96,000 physicians in the U.S. by 2020.
Rural and inner-city areas, which doctors consider to be financially unattractive, currently are experiencing physician shortages, and some experts expect those shortages to spread into other areas in part because of a growing population of the elderly and prosperous consumers who demand the latest medical treatments. In addition, large numbers of doctors are growing older and are expected to retire over the next few years.
Recent studies indicate that doctors increasingly want to work less hours, including more women doctors who balance family and work, as well as male doctors who want more personal and family time. According to a study in the September issue of American Medicine, more medical school graduates are choosing specialties that tend to have more flexible schedules, such as radiology, while avoiding specialties such as family practice, which can have longer hours.
According to the Sun, shortages of cardiologists, dermatologists, orthopedic surgeons and obstetricians in many cities across the U.S. have led to long patient wait times. In addition, experts say that the number of primary care physicians is decreasing because of higher medical school debt and lower pay for those specialties, the Sun reports. According to the National Resident Matching Program, only 82.4% of family medicine residencies offered in 2005 were filled.
Nationally, about 37% of new doctors are choosing general medicine practices, according to CGME. To address the shortage, CGME has recommended that the government fund more residencies and that U.S. medical schools increase enrollment by 15% over 2002 levels in the next 10 years. However, limits on government funding have prevented increased residencies (Bell, Baltimore Sun, 10/16).