Physician shortage expected to hit by 2025

BY CINDY GARCIA | APRIL 17, 2015 5:00 AM

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A national trend of physician shortages will not batter the University of Iowa as hard as other places, officials say.

A recent report by American Association of Medical Colleges’ predicts the United States will experience a shortage of 46,000 to 90,000 physicians by 2025. But the UI Hospitals and Clinics might not be affected as much as the rest of the country.

“I think there are possibilities it could affect us but less than others,” said Doug Van Daele, the associate dean for clinical affairs, citing the UI’s spectrum of care and education. “There is a risk that other people will try to take our good providers. We need to be mindful and make this a really good place to work in order to attract people.”

Nationally, primary-care physicians will have an estimated shortfall of 12,000 to 31,000. Non-primary physicians, especially surgical specialists, will experience a shortfall of 28,000 to 63,000.

“We’ve talked about primary care for a long time, but we’ve not talked as much of the shortage in subspecialty care,” said Debra Schwinn, the dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine.

Total physician demand is expected to increase 11 to 17 percent, and population growth and aging will account for 14 percent of that rise. The Affordable Care Act is also expected to demand an additional 2 percent.

However, in contrast, physician supply is expected to grow by just 9 percent.

Tannaz Rasouli, the director of government relations at the American Association of Medical Colleges, said the issue is being addressed. 

“We know that medical schools have been doing their part by expanding their class sizes and opening new medical schools,” Rasouli said. “We’re hopeful that Congress recognizes that as a part of a multi-pronged solution. We need to be making an increase in federal support to make that possible.”

Van Daele said providing proper support for students to become doctors is essential.

“We may be turning out medical students but not residency spots, so they will not be able to be well-trained,” he said. “We need to fund residency spots as well to increase the number of physicians in the future to ameliorate these shortages.”

Although the medical school has not increased its class size in a few years, the latest increase did add four more students to exclusively address the issue of rural medical care in Iowa.

“These four students come in dedicated knowing they want to go back and help rural communities,” Schwinn said.

While being in a rural area can further compound shortages, there are still a number of factors contributing to the shortage of physicians — the most significant being the country’s aging population.

The shortage in subspecialty care will pose a particularly worrying problem for officials.

“We have an aging population,” said Schwinn. “Near the end of their lives, they’re going to need specialized care.”

Tannaz said action on the physician shortage must happen now.

“I think what we worry about is that if we don’t fix the physician shortage right now that the problems we see right now are going to be more widespread. There were a lot of tragic headlines this year,” said Tannaz. “We worry that the kind of shortage that affected the VA will affect the country.”

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