Many times, when we discuss issues in medicine, we discuss the dangers of burnout. Burnout has detrimental impacts on healthcare providers’ health and wellbeing, the quality of care provided to patients, and much more. All in all, burnout is often an unfortunate consequence that many healthcare providers suffer. Taking on more than what can be handled at work is a common cause of burnout, which is a result of poor infrastructure and the healthcare provider shortage. On the patient side, waiting lists for specialists are stretching in years of delay and the consequences of healthcare delay are often quite severe. Now, more than ever, we are witnesses to how the healthcare provider shortage is affecting our medical experiences in real time.
Several factors have played a role in the healthcare provider shortage - from medical school and residency slots to the knowledge deficit to burnout. For pre-meds, we know that medical school acceptance rates are low - the average US medical school has a 7% acceptance rate. After medical school, matching into residency programs has even worse odds. With thousands of students failing to match into these programs, their journeys as physicians stop there. While it will take time and effort, both medical school and residency program seats must be increased tremendously. The US government has already taken steps to address this issue - the Consolidated Appropriations Act (2021) opened 1,000 new residency slots.
Additionally, as the US population grows older, so does the physician population. In fact, over 40% of physicians will be 65+, which means a majority of these doctors will head into retirement. A phenomenon known as knowledge deficit occurs - fellows and young doctors lose the opportunity to learn from their older counterparts. As Definitive Health states, knowledge deficit can lead to “the provision of lower-quality healthcare services, increased medical errors and readmissions, and more.” Truthfully, there is not a clear solution to the knowledge deficit, but it’s important to be aware of just how many doctors will be leaving the workforce.
The healthcare provider shortage will not affect everyone equally; rather, it will be the underserved who face the more severe consequences. Rural areas already face a serious lack of physicians - in fact, less than 8% of all physicians and surgeons practice in rural settings. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of 54,000 to 139,000 physicians will occur in 2033 - we must draw attention to this issue and push for action. Calling legislators, informing ourselves, and spreading awareness are all valuable tools to solve this issue.
Thanks for reading!
- Adeba Mukul