The Physician Shortage

Right now, the USA is short 90,000 physicians.

By 2025, that number will jump to 130,000.

But hold on, aren’t there nearly 900,000 highly qualified medical school applicants every year? And don’t 26,000 new doctors enter the workforce every year?

Yes, and yes.

A shortage of physicians plans to encompass the American healthcare system, and it can’t help but prompt the question — How did we get here?

Let’s explore the factors contributing to this issue.

The Patient and The Healthcare Provider (specifically, physicians).

The baby boomer population was the largest generation in America (71.6 million people) until April 2020, when its crown was snatched by the millenials (72.1 million people). The average age of a baby boomer today is between 56–76 years old, which makes them prime individuals that encounter more complex medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis, and more. This means that baby boomers are visiting their physician more often than usual, and in large numbers. Think of it like this: within the last 10 years, there has been an increase of 71.6 million people who are at risk for medical conditions, therefore in need of a physician. But, since 2000, there has only been an increase of 272,013 physicians in the country. We also can’t forget that 52% of active physicians are aged 55 and older, and are set to retire within the next decade.

So, the demand for needing a physician is high, and the supply of doctors has not significantly increased.

Access to Healthcare

Most physicians work in urban areas, where 77.9% of the U.S population resides. Rural hospitals are where physician shortages are most concentrated, due to decreased population and the barren environment. Furthermore, 92.5% of residency training programs for incoming physicians are in urban areas. It is difficult to persuade young doctors to move to rural areas to practice medicine. After all, more opportunities to excel in medicine are available in highly-populated cities and metropolitan areas.

The Journey to Become a Physician

It can’t be argued that becoming a doctor is a difficult, strenuous and time consuming journey. 4 years of undergrad, then 4 years of medical school, followed by at least 3 years of residency, and sometimes 2–7 years of specialty training. Not to mention that many students pursue other degrees like an MBA, MPH, or even a PhD. Some even take gap years to maximize their experience. On average, it takes between 11–14 years to become a licensed MD or DO in the USA. This time consuming educational experience ensures that these individuals are competent to practice medicine and help others, but it also comes with many grueling and unfair aspects. For one, resident physicians are paid like Wal-Mart employees! On average, they are paid $61,200 per year, but get this — the median necessary living wage across the USA is $67,690! You’re telling me that after 14 years of education, doctors are making less than what is necessary to survive?!

But that’s not even the beginning. Remember how I mentioned that 900,000 students apply to medical school every year? Well, it turns out that only 30% of applicants are accepted, and only about 20,000 matriculate into medical school. The competitive medical school admissions process is undoubtedly contributing to the physician shortage. If experts are continuing to warn us about the doctor crisis, then why aren’t medical schools taking the steps to increase medical school acceptances and matriculants? Why does the process have to have such a low success rate? Are our institutions unable to accommodate a large number of medical students? Because with a physician shortage, there would certainly not be an issue with the job market being too competitive.

American Obesity

Almost half of America is obese! America also has the worst diet in the world. The reason many Americans develop complex medical conditions in their life is due to their diet and wellbeing. And our culture promotes it! From cheap fast food options loaded with grease, oil, fat, and an absence of nutrition, to sugar-rich soft drinks and candy plastered on ads everywhere, it is clear that junk food is the norm. The increased consumption of processed and high-sugar foods has contributed to an increase in type-2 diabetes, and many other chronic diseases.

Our dietary choices are directly responsible for potential health diseases. The reason that there is a doctor shortage is because we have decided to let junk food and indolence win. Our bodies have developed health problems earlier than normal, creating an influx of patients with severe health issues, and doctors cannot keep up with such an inundation.

Resident physicians are paid like Wal-Mart employees!

So, how can we combat this issue?

  • Increase Medical School Matriculants | Medical schools possess considerable power to change the projection of the physician shortage. They must accept and allow more applicants to matriculate into medical school. The argument that “the physician job market will become too crowded and new doctors won’t find jobs” will absolutely not be true, because after all there is a shortage of physicians.
  • Increase Residency Acceptances | Residency programs must also follow suit and increase their acceptances. The residency process cannot be exceedingly competitive amidst a physician shortage. Maybe, medical school graduates should be guaranteed to match with a residency program! This is the only way we can fight the doctor crisis.
  • Allow Foreign Medical Degree Holders to Work | The USA must automatically accept foreign medical degrees so that foreign doctors can work in American healthcare. If residency programs guarantee U.S graduates a match, and allow foreign doctors to apply to residency programs, all while increasing the number of total physicians in residency training, then we will see a significant recovery in physician numbers.
  • Embrace Medical Technology | Resources and services like telemedicine, remote surgery and virtual wellness should be more widely implemented and funded by the U.S and local governments. Wearable technology like the Apple Watch, with its ECG capability, should be further funded and more research should be dedicated to expanding the presence of affordable personal medical devices.
  • Educate the Public on Healthy Lifestyles | American people should be more attentive to learning about health and wellness. We must create free and sustainable practices such as community health workshops in order to educate the common American on how to take care of themselves.

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