Where Have All the Primary Care Doctors Gone?
More and more, my family and friends are asking for my help in finding a primary care doctor. That they would be having trouble finding one doesn’t surprise me. We’ve all been reading warnings about an impending doctor shortage for several years now.
What is alarming to me is that there are no sure-fire solutions in place that will bail us all out in time.
In the United States, we are now short approximately 9,000 primary care doctors. These are the general internists, family doctors, geriatricians and general pediatricians, the doctors responsible for diagnosing new illnesses, managing chronic ones, advocating preventive care and protecting wellness. And health care leaders predict that that deficit will worsen dramatically in the next 15 years. Specialties like general surgery, neurosurgery and emergency medicine will also become critically understaffed; but primary care will be hardest hit, with a shortfall of more than 65,000 doctors.
While the demands from a growing and aging population and an influx of 40 million patients newly covered by insurance are considered the main drivers of this crisis, there is no shortage of issues on the physician supply side.
For starters, only 2 percent of all medical students in a recent study expressed interest in practicing primary care as a general internist. Most continue to flock to subspecialty fields like dermatology, anesthesiology, radiology and ophthalmology.