There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen

There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen
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As a neurosurgeon whose career has focused on academic research and training the next generation of doctors, I am convinced that the time has come to expand Medicare’s support for residency training to ensure all Americans have access to the care they deserve now and into the future.

Currently, the country faces a severe physician workforce shortage — one that will only worsen as more Americans obtain health insurance and baby boomers continue to reach retirement age.

By the year 2032, the United States will see a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians — a shortfall of roughly 25,000 to 66,000 specialists and 21,000 to 55,000 primary care physicians, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

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The current shortfall in number of needed physicians is already having consequences that jeopardize timely patient access to specialty care. Consider the following:

1. Demand for services is increasing: Particularly in the specialty fields of cardiology, urology, dermatology, endocrinology, ophthalmology, gastroenterology and neurosurgery. This outpaces demand for adult primary care services. As a result, patients are experiencing considerable wait times for care.

2. The maldistribution rate among physicians, especially in rural communities, is significant, and in many parts of the country, Americans have limited access to specialty health care.

3. Physicians are getting older. In fact, one-third of all currently active doctors will be older than 65 in the next decade. Depending on the specialty, it can take up to 18 years — including college, medical school, residency and fellowship — to train a specialty physician, and once gone from the workforce, they are not easily replaced.

The magnitude of the projected physician workforce shortage speaks to the need to expand the number of residency training slots. Although the number of medical students being trained in the U.S. is increasing due to the opening of new medical schools and the expanding class size of existing schools, no corresponding increase in the number of Medicare-funded residency training slots has occurred.

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This is because more than two decades ago the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 capped graduate medical education (GME) funding. This cap is highly problematic because it is not the number of medical students trained, but rather the number of positions in the GME system that determines the supply of physicians. Because of the growing need to increase the size of the physician workforce and the time it takes for a resident to finish training, it is essential that Congress approaches this problem with the sense of urgency it deserves.

To address the growing physician workforce shortage and ensure a physician workforce that is of sufficient size and specialty mix, the Alliance of Specialty Medicine  is calling on Congress to pass legislation to eliminate the current GME funding restrictions. To further this objective, the Alliance has endorsed the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act (S. 348/H.R. 1763). Sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-N.J.), John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanVA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen MORE (R-Ark.) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems McConnell vows to 'vigorously' oppose Moore's Senate bid Pelosi: Trump delay on Harriet Tubman is 'an insult to the hopes of millions' MORE (D-N.Y.), and in the House by Reps. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellCentrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage push On The Money: House to vote on minimum wage this summer | Sanders doubles down on democratic socialism | May deficit surges | Democrat puts hold on Treasury nominees in fight over Trump tax returns House to vote on minimum wage by August MORE (D-Ala.), John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Senate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats House passes amendment to block funding for transgender troops ban MORE (R-N.Y.), Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) and Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Hillicon Valley: House panel advances election security bill | GOP senator targets YouTube with bill on child exploitation | Hicks told Congress Trump camp felt 'relief' after release of Clinton docs | Commerce blacklists five Chinese tech groups House panel advances election security bill requiring paper ballots MORE (R-Ill.), these bills would increase the number of Medicare-supported residency slots by 15,000 over five years. If adopted, this bipartisan legislation would go a long way towards addressing this looming physician workforce crisis.

An appropriate supply of well‐educated and trained physicians is essential to ensure timely access to quality health care services for all Americans. America’s specialty physicians challenge Congress to meet these needs by adopting legislation to increase the number of Medicare-supported residency positions.

Alex B. Valadka, M.D. is the chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and serves as the spokesperson for the Alliance of Specialty Medicine, a coalition of national medical societies representing more than 100,000 specialty physicians in the United States.