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  The Herman Trend Alert

November 5, 2008

Tackling the Physician Shortage

Around the world, physicians are in short supply. In the United States, this shortage is sadly getting worse. Some disturbing statistics include that nearly one-third of practicing physicians are age 55 years or older and likely to retire in the next decade. An estimate of the current nationwide shortage of primary care doctors is 60,000.

In fact, some parts of the Midwest do not have a single physician. By 2020, the US Department. of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration projects a shortfall of at least 55,000 physicians, mainly in non-primary care specialties, while the Health Policy Institute of the Medical College of Wisconsin forecasts 200,000 additional doctors needed by that time.

As if this situation were not bad enough, the American Medical Group Association (AMGA) forecasts added pressure of even greater losses due to an increasing number of physicians practicing on a part time basis, particularly among women with children.

Outside of the US, in Africa, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), projects the birth coverage shortfall alone will be 167,000 doctors by 2015. The only country that appears to be doing okay is Cuba, where we find more than double (5.91) the number of physicians per 1000 people as the US (2.56).

By 2015, The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) has suggested a 30 percent increase in medical school enrollments. This increase would result in 5,000 new M.D. students every year. The AAMC is also considering new options for US medical students to study abroad and return to the US to complete their residency and practice medicine.

According to a new industry report from Jackson & Coker, hospitals and medical groups are taking steps to tackle this critical problem with encouraging outcomes. Some have responded by adopting more flexible staffing, allowing for job sharing and part time positions. Twenty percent of the responding administrators and recruiters use contracted physicians to handle shortfalls.

Wise hospitals and health systems will follow the lead of Healthcare Network Associates in Springfield, Illinois, where, in part because they are recognized as an Employer of Choice®, physicians are calling them for employment.


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