It’s Official: There IS a Physician Shortage

The New York Times has made it official. There is a physician shortage: “Doctor Shortage Likely To Worsen with Health Care Law”

They’ve published that news as their lead story today, although they didn’t report the news that shortages were developing when we published our model in Health Affairs a decade ago:

And they paid no attention when we reviewed the evidence two years later in the Annals of Internal Medicine and implored our colleagues to take action: “The medical profession has long accepted the responsibility for assuring adequate numbers of competent physicians. Fulfilling that responsibility is an obligation that it must now embrace.”

And they looked the other way when, in the Annals of Surgery three years later, we pleaded for more residents to fix the problem: “If we do not rise to meet the challenge, future generations will wonder what ours was all about, what purpose was served by allowing a great profession to stagnate and why they and their loved ones must experience illness without access to a competent and caring physician.”

But now, at last, they have identified the problem. There are too few physician, and its getting worse, and the lack of adequate numbers of physicians will undermine the goals of health care reform and harm the health of the nation.

Sadly, as the Times article notes, “Health experts, including many who support the law, say there is little that the government or the medical profession will be able to do to close the gap by 2014, when the law begins extending coverage to about 30 million Americans.  It typically takes a decade to train a doctor.” And that is exactly why we urged action a decade ago.

So, thanks to Annie Lowrey and Robert Pear and the New York Times for finally making it official. I hope these influential journalists and their influential newspaper will go the next step and call for expanding Graduate Medical Education. That is the key to meeting the needs in the future.


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