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A Primer on the Physician Shortage

You’ve heard about the physician shortage, but how does it affect you? Well, it could help you figure out what career you would want to join after you graduate since the demand is higher in certain specialties. Here’s a summary of the physician shortage and its impact on health in the United States:

What is the Physician Shortage?

It’s an issue of supply and demand – fewer physicians and more patients than ever. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts that there will be a shortage of 90,000 physicians by 2025. The shortage will adversely affect patients in communities with limited physician coverage and limited means to travel far. It’s not just a decrease in patients’ access to healthcare, but an increase in physicians’ workloads, leading to overextension as more patients come in.

Factors Increasing the Shortage

This shortage is the nexus of a series of (mostly) unfortunate events, including more doctors retiring, a booming population, more patients getting insured, less seats in U.S. medical schools, and constant number of residency slots despite rising demand. It’s a perfect storm that will overburden the United States’ health system.

Primary Care Will Be Hit the Hardest

The physician shortage will make matters worse for many people residing in rural communities, where patients already have to travel great distances or wait for hours to just to see a primary care physician. U.S. medical school graduates are avoiding this discipline because of how it is negatively perceived by them. In fact, the effects of the primary care physician shortage are already in play.

AUA graduate Dr. Paul Aguillon works in his father’s family medicine clinic in rural Delaware, where one doctor serves 30,000 people. The shortage has forced his practice to take on many disciplines outside his purview, including orthopedic and emergency medicine — which leads to primary physicians spending less of their time on primary care.

Solutions

Some experts have proposed giving medical assistants more responsibilities and cutting down on the bureaucracy involved in medical treatment. The most obvious solution comes down to increasing the number of practicing physicians. However, the lack of residency slots and medical school seats in combination with the 7-10 years it takes to become a licensed physician make increasing the number of physicians easier said than done.

Providing more opportunities for minorities to enroll in medical school is a step towards that solution. Minority physicians are more likely to practice in underserved areas that are hit hard by the shortage, with the added benefit of allowing for more diverse perspectives from multiple cultures, which will only improve quality of care.

Opportunities for Caribbean medical school graduates

Caribbean medical school graduates help fill the void of much needed primary care physicians. Despite the intense competition for most residency placements, the initial residency match process often ends with a surplus of primary care slots available, which eager Caribbean medical school graduates often fill. The realities of the physician shortage may seem bleak but by enrolling in a Caribbean medical school, you can be a part of the solution.

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