The Fading Physicians
By Gregory Belizaire
In spite of the daily stresses that plague us all and an overarching narrative that the world is coming to an end, the modern day is full of great new ideas and constant innovation, with new technological advancements every day leading to healthier, more prosperous, and more educated populations than have ever existed before. Speaking broadly, there has never been a better time to be alive with considerations to safety and health. With this unprecedented progress however, comes unforeseeable consequences. Better medications and more sanitary conditions lead to longer lifespans, but this does not guarantee an indefinite avoidance of medical issues. The median age of the United States has risen from 28 years old in 1970 to 38 years old in 2017, and considering the population increased from roughly 200 million to 325 million individuals in that same time span, this means there is a considerably higher number of people reaching elderly ages than ever before and at an increasing rate. Despite all the medical progress made thus far, the human body still has its limitations, and there are a multitude of new problems that arise in people that reach these ages. And unfortunately, it would seem that the medical field as it stands today is not equipped to adapt to this rapidly changing demographic.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, “the United States could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030, impacting patient care across the nation” (“Increasing Physician Shortages in Both Primary and Specialty Care”). This number is astounding, and only creates a projection based on an expected 11% increase in general U.S. population growth, along with a 50% population growth of those aged over 65 by 2030. These numbers do not necessarily consider many underserved communities, and if universal healthcare or a similar government program is implemented, this number can only be considered an incredible underestimation.
Fortunately, this is not a problem that has gone unnoticed. Ken Pham is one of many individuals that has proposed certain measures to combat the decreasing rate of physicians in the workforce. In an article on possible policy measures to deal with this growing issue, he writes that policymakers need to “reform the current system of graduate medical education” through an increase in funding for training medical residents (“America’s Looming Doctor Shortage”). On the aspect of education reform, the NYU School of Medicine has taken this idea to heart and now has granted free tuition to its students, incentivizing more applicants. In addition, according to Pham, there are thousands of medical graduates who do not match into residency programs following their graduation from medical school. This is a clear waste of the knowledge and skills these students have worked to gain, and Pham suggests that, “Employing them via provisional license and allowing them to practice under supervision would allow them to use their medical education, recapture the value of their degrees, and help to alleviate the emerging physician shortage” (“America’s Looming Doctor Shortage”).
While the healthcare system involves a variety of vital positions and key moving parts, physicians are the backbone of its delivery, and with the increasing shortage of them across the United States there are many problems to anticipate in the coming future. But with the increasing number of incentives, and its place as still one of the most respected and secure job positions available, perhaps it is just another temporary obstacle on the road of human progress.
“Median Age of the U.S. Population 1960-2017 | Statistic.” Statista, www.statista.com/statistics/241494/median-age-of-the-us-population/.
“New Research Shows Increasing Physician Shortages in Both Primary and Specialty Care.” AAMCNews, AAMC, 11 Apr. 2018, www.news.aamc.org/press-releases/article/workforce_report_shortage_04112018/.
Pham, Kevin. “America's Looming Doctor Shortage: What Policymakers Should Do.” The Heritage Foundation, 5 Sept. 2018, www.heritage.org/health-care-reform/report/americas-looming-doctor-shortage-what-policymakers-should-do.
“United States Population | 1900-2018 | Data | Chart | Calendar | Forecast.” Kenya Government Debt to GDP | 1998-2018 | Data | Chart | Calendar, www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/population.