Health Care

Doctor Shortages Aren’t Just a Veterans Affairs Problem. They’re a Nationwide Problem.

The country is running out of physicians to treat a growing pool of patients.

National Journal
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Marina Koren
June 2, 2014, 1 a.m.

Last week, an in­vest­ig­at­ive re­port re­vealed that 1,700 vet­er­ans who wanted to see a doc­tor at a Phoenix Vet­er­ans Af­fairs hos­pit­al were miss­ing from an of­fi­cial wait­ing list, mir­ror­ing a tac­tic used at two dozen oth­er fa­cil­it­ies across the coun­try to mask long waits for med­ic­al care.

A few hun­dred oth­er people are miss­ing from the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs sys­tem, too: doc­tors.

The Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment is 400 doc­tors short, The New York Times re­ports. But the doc­tor de­fi­cit is not lim­ited to the VA — it’s a na­tion­wide prob­lem.

Amer­ica is run­ning out of doc­tors. The coun­try will be 91,500 phys­i­cians short of what it needs to treat pa­tients by 2020, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ic­an Med­ic­al Col­leges. By 2025, it will be short 130,600.

The coun­try will be 91,500 phys­i­cians short of what it needs to treat pa­tients by 2020.

Like at the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment, de­mand will be highest for primary-care phys­i­cians, the kinds of doc­tors many people go to first be­fore they are re­ferred to spe­cial­ists.

While stu­dents are ap­ply­ing to and en­rolling in med­ic­al schools in re­cord num­bers, high in­terest does not ne­ces­sar­ily mean more doc­tors. The num­ber of res­id­ences — cru­cial stages of med­ic­al train­ing — has not ris­en with the num­ber of ap­plic­ants, thanks to a gov­ern­ment-im­posed cap. The As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ic­an Med­ic­al Col­leges has pushed Con­gress to change the law, pre­dict­ing that there won’t be enough res­id­en­cies for young doc­tors by next year.

Mean­while, the num­ber of pa­tients is in­creas­ing. Mil­lions of pre­vi­ously un­in­sured Amer­ic­ans are now able to seek med­ic­al care un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act. Baby boomers are get­ting older and rack­ing up new ail­ments, which means they mak­ing more trips to the doc­tor’s of­fice. (The boomers who are doc­tors them­selves are near­ing re­tire­ment age.)

And both in­sured and un­in­sured Amer­ic­ans — in­clud­ing vet­er­ans — are sick­er now than ever be­fore.


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