By Christine Whitmarsh, RN, BSN
In 1960’s America the government and health advisory groups were concerned about an imminent surplus of physicians. They wondered how the nation’s health care system would be able to accommodate the coming onslaught of doctors. They cited studies that supposedly supported their data and ignored the reports from recruiters and hospitals that were already starting to have trouble attracting enough physicians. It was not until 2003 that the American Medical Association changed their tune from surplus to shortage. Over the years, an anatomy of physician shortage has been developed.
Nearly 50 years after the debate started, the idea of a physician surplus is nostalgic, wishful thinking. Physician recruitment is near the top of most hospital “things to do” lists. We now face the need for 200,000 new physicians by 2020. General and family practitioners in underserved areas, such as rural areas where one-fifth of America’s population resides*, are the most in demand, with radiologists, orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists and cardiologists following suit. The Association of American Medical Colleges has stated that interest by medical students in a primary care career has dropped from 35.6% in 1999 to 21.5% in 2002.
The Anatomy of Physician Shortage: How We Got Here
-More People: The U.S. population has gone from 286 million potential patients to 325 million since 2000 while the doctor population didn’t grow nearly as fast.
-More Older People: I won’t bore you with the baby boomer numbers… everyone in health care has seen this coming for a while. Older patients mean more medical needs.
-More Interest in Specialty Areas: Newer doctors appear to be drawn to specialties with “controllable” lifestyles like dermatology and anesthesiology more than to areas where they are needed the most like general and family practice (as Locum Tenens Physicians are finding in their job searching).
-Fewer Physicians: On one end they are retiring and on the other, there are fewer kids saying “I want to be a doctor when I grow up.” For the ones who are, the schools to teach them are hurting to stay open with enough money and faculty.
-Fewer Imports: Doctors we have typically invited to practice from overseas have been running into more red tape and visa issues since 9/11, leaving those positions open.
However we got here, the fact remains that the current shortage is creating new Locum physician jobs daily in areas around the country. Whether you are on the retiring end or resident end of the shortage, there are physician travel jobs to meet your needs.
*U.S. Census Bureau
Source: NAS Insights: Physician Recruitment Report (2008)
Christine Whitmarsh is a Registered Nurse with a BSN from the University of Rhode Island. She is a freelance health journalist and medical writer and a contributor to Travel Nurse Source and Allied Travel Careers.