By Kathy Adams – Contributing Writer and Specialty Account Executive at RE Pharmacy

Where do our Doctors come from? Is there a plan of attracting doctors in a direct ratio to our population, or our need for medical services? Is it true that we have – or are likely to have – a shortage of medical doctors? And if it is true, is there any intention to mitigate this – perhaps by the government?

The fear of doctor shortage is being heard in my community. Medical educators are expressing concern over the decline in the number of suitable applicants for medical training and are even experiencing difficulty filling their classes with suitably qualified students.

Below are some reasons to consider for this decline:

Increased demand for medical services:

People are living longer, thereby creating a greater prevalence of degenerative diseases, and thus more need for medical care.

While this shortage has been building for decades, passage of the Affordable Care Act, which increased the number of insured people, created additional demand for more doctors.

Since everyone is now required to have and pay for health insurance, there is a greater tendency to seek medical care because “we have to pay for it anyway”.

There is a disproportionate relationship between the demand of patients to the supply of doctors. Meaning, the steady increase in population is not matched by an equal increase in medical professionals.

“There is a disproportionate relationship between the demand of patients to the supply of doctors.”

– Kathy Adams

The high cost of becoming a Doctor is deterring students from seeking this career:

The potentially staggering debt is enough to turn off even the brightest of the profession. The average cost of private medical school tuition is about $246,000. Loans may also include the cost of living while the student attends the four years of medical school. In California, the average cost of living is $52,000 per year, resulting in around $454,000 of debt. And by the time the Doctor completes another 3 years of residency, that debt will easily top half a million dollars.
Rural areas have a tougher time recruiting doctors. Often rural areas house a greater number of people living below the poverty level. Healthcare reimbursement by Medicare and Medical barely pays enough to cover the cost of having a practice. And, while reimbursements are greater in highly populated areas, Doctors have to balance private insurance with government-funded insurance to ensure the practice is profitable.

To narrow this disparity, the United States must look beyond its borders and explore the possibility of international medical schools., where Graduates have historically proven more willing to fill these gaps and are twice as likely as their U.S.-trained counterparts to practice in rural America. Additionally, medical reimbursements for Government-funded insurances like Medicare and Medi-Cal needs to be increased to a rate that is in greater proportion to that of private insurance.

Is there a solution?

There isn’t a solution that will immediately solve the problem. Waiting at the doctor’s office could soon become a national pastime. With one-third of America’s doctors on the verge of retirement, and the number of students graduating from U.S. medical schools growing at a snail’s pace at less than 1.5 percent a year, we are likely to deal with this issue for decades. The U.S. population, meanwhile, is set to reach nearly 360 million by 2030. Coupled with the number of aging Americans requiring twice as much medical care as young people – approaching 50%. We can only hope this will get greater attention from Government.

The country would need almost 14,000 additional primary care doctors immediately to solve the federally identified Health Care Professional Shortage Areas. Even if U.S. medical schools enrolled more students they would not be able to fill the deficit on their own. Most graduates of U.S. schools pursue careers as specialists, and U.S. medical school graduates tend to cluster in relatively affluent cities and suburbs. Of these, only 1 in 4 will practice in medically underserved regions, and just 1 in 10 will practice in rural areas.

To narrow this disparity, the United States must look beyond its borders and explore the possibility of international medical schools., where Graduates have historically proven more willing to fill these gaps and are twice as likely as their U.S.-trained counterparts to practice in rural America. Additionally, medical reimbursements for Government-funded insurances like Medicare and Medi-Cal needs to be increased to a rate that is in greater proportion to that of private insurance.

By Kathy Adams

Contributing Writer and Specialty Account Executive – RE Pharmacy