According to new data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States will see a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 Physicians by 2032 as demand for Physicians continues to grow faster than supply. An estimated 44,000 of those Doctors are primary care Physicians (PCP).
Even with hospital systems and health officials calling attention to this crisis, U.S. medical school graduates are becoming less likely to choose to specialize in this field.
The 2019 National Resident Matching Program also known as “the Match” determines where medical students will study in their chosen specialty after graduation. According to The Washington Post, this year, the percentage of primary care positions filled by fourth-year medical students was the lowest on record.
“I think part of it has to do with income,” said Mona Signer, chief executive of the Match. “Primary care specialties are not the highest paying.”
According to Medscape, the primary care Physician average salary is $284,000, and specialist salaries average $341,000.
Medicare’s system of paying Physicians for services furnished to Medicare beneficiaries, and its emulation by other payers, is a major contributor to that income gap.
Another deterrent is the amount of time primary care Doctors spend filling out patients’ electronic medical records. “I don’t think people realize how involved electronic medical records are,” said Eric Hsieh, the internal medicine residency program director at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, “You have to synthesize everything and coordinate all of the care. And something that I see with the residents in our program is that the time spent on electronic medical records rather than caring for patients frustrates them.”
More Doctors will be needed in the coming years to care for aging baby boomers, many of whom will have multiple chronic conditions. Additionally, the aging population will affect Physician supply, since one-third of all currently active Doctors will be older than 65 in the next decade. When these Physicians decide to retire could have the greatest impact on supply.
Studies have shown that states with a higher ratio of primary care Physicians have better health and lower rates of mortality. Patients who regularly see a primary care Physician also have lower health costs than those without one.
Some institutions, such as NYU, have decided to pass up charging medical school tuition in hopes that it will encourage more Doctors to become PCPs. Because this strategy would not reduce the income gap, it is unlikely to be successful. A better strategy would be to target tuition subsidies to those who will practice primary care.
Primary care Physicians are integral to health systems and are necessary in improving patient health. We hope policymakers and educational leaders will consider more solutions to combat the future primary care physician shortage.