Doctor shortage expected to grow over the next decade

Published: May. 31, 2013 at 9:49 AM CDT
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CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - [if gte mso 9]>

You could have to wait longer to see a doctor in the coming years due to a predicted shortage of physicians.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates that by 2020 there will be a shortage of more than 91,000 physicians nationwide. That number is expected to soar to 125,000 by 2025.

Experts say the cause is partially due to an aging population, but also because soon-to-be fully implemented changes in the nation's healthcare laws means millions more people will soon rely on family physicians for primary care. 

"Family practice is going to be the cornerstone of caring for patients under the Accountable Care Act," said SIH Vice President of Physicians Services Philip Schaefer. "They're going to be the intake and they're going to coordinate the care for a broad variety of patients. So having enough family physicians is important.

But the supply of doctors coming out of medical school isn't keeping up with the drastically increasing demand in doctors' offices.

Schaefer says what's worse, doctors are aging too and getting out of medicine earlier than ever before.

"Physicians in this country by and large are not working as late in their careers as they used to because it's less pleasant," said Schaefer. "If they're prepared for retirement financially, the hassle factor has encouraged some physicians to look to do other things with their latter years."

Schaefer says that hurts the medical field in more than one way; not only in terms of there being fewer doctors, but less know-how in the field. When doctors retire they take with them decades of practical experience and knowledge that's irreplaceable.

"We're going to need more," said Schaefer. "We are hopeful the residency programs will produce enough graduates. Especially to come to rural America which is a bit more of a recruiting challenge. Secondly we need to be able to recruit effectively and retain good doctors so we have enough physicians for the patients we care for."

That's why Schaefer says his organization is focusing heavily on recruiting and building up staffing levels now.

"We recruited about 28 physicians to come to southern Illinois year before last," said Schaefer. "We're on track to bring in 20 new physicians to southern Illinois this year and we don't see that really abating."

As the nation grapples with a physician shortage, Schaefer says patients with minor health concerns may have more appointments with physician's assistants and nurse practitioners, rather than a doctor.

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