AUA was praised in the Albany Times Union last month for its role in combating the physician shortage. Full article with a link to the original source below:
Alexander: Physician shortage is real crisis in New York state, nation
By Paul Alexander, Commentary
There’s a crisis in New York that’s not getting the attention it deserves: a critical doctors shortage that promises only to get worse.
Go outside of New York City and you will encounter doctor shortages throughout the state. According to a recent report from the Healthcare Association of New York State, there are 1,026 unfilled physician positions in hospitals across New York, more than a quarter of them for primary-care physicians. Sixty-one percent of health care facilities and hospitals do not have enough specialists. In rural areas, that number increases to a staggering 86 percent.
The effects of this shortage are real. Over the past two years, one third of hospitals in the state have been forced to curtail services. Two-thirds of the hospitals, many of them in rural communities, have had to operate with understaffed emergency rooms. The situation is so dire the New York Legislature should consider taking actions that would address the crisis, especially since Congress, bogged down by partisan gridlock, appears incapable of doing anything about it.
Make no mistake, it’s a national problem. The Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that 20 percent of the American population — 60 million people — resides in an area where there are too few primary care physicians. And things are only going to get worse. The American Association of Medical Colleges predicts that the nationwide shortage will reach 90,000 doctors by 2020, 130,000 by 2025.
The shortage is particularly severe among Latino doctors. “The nation’s Latino population rose 243 percent between 1980 and 2010,” The Albuquerque Journal recently reported, “[but] the number of Latino medical doctors …declined 22 percent, creating a shortage of physicians with many of the language and cultural skills needed to serve the Spanish-speaking community.”
There are reasons for this crisis. The federal government predicts the number of doctors will increase by seven percent over the next decade, while an aging baby boomer generation turns 65 at a rate of 36 percent. Some of those retirees are doctors themselves, which only compounds the problem. Currently, one third of all doctors practicing in the U.S. are at or near retirement age. Then there’s Obamacare, which continues to enroll the uninsured beyond the more than 11.7 million who have already signed up. Because of these and other factors, to quote the AAMC, “[t]he physician shortage will persist under every likely scenario.”
In New York, there is an additional consideration. Many physicians trained in medical schools in the state don’t actually end up practicing here. The AAMC says that 62 percent of the doctors who graduate from medical school here move to another state. “We train over 11 percent of the [country’s] physicians,” Jo Wiederhorn, president of The Associated Medical Schools of New York, said. “Students train here, but many don’t stay.”
The medical community is attempting to address the shortage. Some medical schools, like the University of Utah School of Medicine, are admitting historically large first-year classes. Other schools, like the School of Medicine at Texas Tech University, are reducing their academic curriculum from four years to three. But it will also be necessary to recruit graduates from top-tier international medical schools like the American University in Antigua School of Medicine. While U.S. medical school graduates are less likely to enter primary care — the field of medicine most needed today — graduates of international medical schools often become internists and family practitioners.
Beyond these efforts, more residencies must be created. Before a medical school graduate can go into practice, he must complete a residency, and the number of those positions, approximately 113,000, most of them funded by Medicare at an annual expense of $10.1 billion, has remained more or less constant since 1997 when Congress froze that figure as part of the Balanced Budget Act.
Sen. Charles Schumer has attempted to address this problem by proposing a bill, the Resident Physician Shortage Act, which would increase the number of Medicare-funded residencies by 15,000 over the next five years. “It’s increasing the number of slots… where people get training,” Schumer has said. “And it would curb the growing shortage. Half the slots are reserved for primary care, which has never happened before.”
Schumer proposed his bill last year. Congress has taken no action. The New York Legislature should address this and other physician-related issues. After all, the growing doctors shortage is a crisis that will affect all New Yorkers.