Is there a doctor shortage?

Written by Chris Gerbasi

The US may be looking at a shortage of 120,000 doctors by 2030.

The country is facing a critical shortage of doctors in the near future if the numerous projections issued in recent years are accurate. The “why” and “when” are heavily debated, but as Americans live longer and require health care for more years, medical schools and hospitals must keep pace to provide a sufficient number of physicians.

A shortage of up to 120,000 physicians may impact the United States by 2030, according to a report released in April by the Association of American Medical Colleges, a not-for-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. The report cites projected shortages in primary care and particularly in specialty care. Training for new doctors can take up to 10 years, so potential shortages would pose a risk to patients in the next decade.

Locally, Florida Hospital Waterman in Tavares works closely on the issue with organizations such as the American Medical Association and the Florida Hospital Association, says Anita Young, the hospital’s chief operating officer. Physician workforce development is a top priority for Waterman and most medical centers in the country, she says. Administrators at Central Florida Health and South Lake Hospital did not respond to requests for comment.

Training for new doctors can take up to 10 years, so potential shortages would pose a risk to patients in the next decade.

“Florida Hospital Waterman regularly evaluates our medical staff and community physician workforce and develops strategies to address any concerns related to shortages,” Anita says in an email. “This often includes recruiting new, highly trained specialists and primary care physicians to serve the residents of north Lake County. Residency and physician training programs at Florida Hospital enhance our ability to recruit physicians to our hospitals and communities.”

The major drivers of the projections are a growing and aging population requiring increasingly complex care, in tandem with an aging physician workforce, the AAMC reports. The U.S. population is estimated to rise by almost 11 percent by 2030, and the 65-and-older age group is expected to increase by 50 percent. One-third of all active physicians also will be 65 or older within the next decade.

“In Central Florida, physician shortage concerns are compounded by large population growth and the average age of our residents,” Anita says.

However, numbers related to medical school are on the rise, the AAMC reports. Enrollment has increased by nearly 30 percent since 2002, and graduation rates are steady.

The breakdown is occurring at the residency level, where a longtime federal funding freeze has prevented an increase in residency slots. An increase in federal support could produce about 3,000 new residency positions each year over the next five years, according to the AAMC. “We must start training more doctors now to meet the needs of our patients in the future,” Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, AAMC president and CEO, says in a news release. “Now it’s time for Congress to do its part…without an increase in federal support, there simply won’t be enough doctors to provide the care Americans need.”

About the author


Chris Gerbasi

Chris Gerbasi has been a journalist for more than 30 years, writing and copy editing for newspapers and magazines throughout Michigan and Florida, and covering everything from city hall to spring training.

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