The Pending Doctor Shortage: Scope and Possible Solutions to the Problem

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Most likely you have already heard about the present (and looming) shortage of doctors. Many people already have a difficult time finding a doctor when they need one, especially if they do not live in an urban area. Unfortunately, the issue is projected to get worse: the Association of American Medical Colleges has predicted a doctor shortage of 46,000 to 90,000 doctors by the year 2025.

The Association of American Medical Colleges has predicted a doctor shortage of 46,000 to 90,000 doctors by the year 2025.

This shortage will have serious repercussions, particularly as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age and the resulting demand for doctors continues to grow. Yet there are a few solutions to the problem. In this article we will explore some of the potential solutions as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Allowing Nurses to Provide Higher Levels of Care

A popular solution is to increase the number of tasks that we allow nurses to perform. This would reduce the demand on doctors to perform routine tasks that probably do not require extensive medical training to perform. While nobody is suggesting that a nurse be allowed to perform open heart surgery or anything of that nature, there is no reason to require eight or twelve years of college just to perform a simple task such as routine irrigation of a patient’s ear or a similar task. In fact, nurses are trained medical professionals.

Nurses are trained medical professionals.

Assigning many of the more routine and low risk medical tasks to nurses will free up doctors to spend their time and attention on more pressing situations. Further, this course of action makes financial sense, as a patient will not need to pay for a doctor’s office visit when he or she can go to a nurse and have the matter treated just as competently—and at a much lower cost.
A disadvantage of this route is that nurses, by definition, do not possess the same extensive training that doctors do. Thus, arguably, one might have less qualified people providing medical care to patients. However, this concern is easily addressed by setting limits on the types of treatment nurses could provide. While it is true that a nurse may not be as highly-trained as a doctor, the fact of the matter is that many of the routine procedures simply don’t require the highest levels of training to perform.
In addition, while a nurse may not be as highly trained as a doctor, they are still more than qualified to recognize when a situation requires a more expert touch. If a nurse encounters a task that he or she is not qualified to perform, he or she can simply refer the matter to a doctor in the same office.

Bringing in more Doctors from other Countries
Many Americans feel—whether rightly or wrongly—that they should be treated by doctors who were trained at U.S. universities. This mindset neglects a valuable source of doctors, namely, the rest of the world. The practice of medicine is something for which there is demand across the globe; further, many doctors who were trained in foreign universities are every bit as competent and capable as those trained in the United States. Opening our borders—and our minds—to allow more foreign-trained doctors to come to the U.S. and begin practices would help alleviate the shortage of doctors.

Many doctors who were trained in foreign universities are every bit as competent and capable as those trained in the United States.

A disadvantage to this approach is that U.S. universities are held to known standards when it comes to the curriculum and training of doctors. Some foreign universities may not take the same approach. However, this concern can be easily alleviated simply by requiring that doctors trained outside the U.S. demonstrate their expertise in their profession before being allowed to practice here. While requiring immigrating doctors to pass a proficiency test would serve as a barrier to entry, the barrier would not be nearly as high as insisting that they be educated in the United States.

Conclusion
While there is undoubtedly a shortage of doctors, this crisis is not without a solution. By allowing nurses to perform some of the more mundane tasks currently assigned to physicians and by bringing in more foreign-trained doctors, we can begin to address the need for more doctors and provide better care to those who need it.

 

Sources
Association of American Medical Colleges, www.aamc.org (website). (n.d.). GME Funding: How to Fix the Doctor Shortage. Available online at https://www.aamc.org/advocacy/campaigns_and_coalitions/fixdocshortage/. Last visited November 25, 2015.
The Wall Street Journal, Journal Reports: Healthcare (website). (June 20, 2013.)The Experts: What Should Be Done to Fix the Predicted U.S. Doctor Shortage? Available online at http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323393804578555741780608174. Last visited November 25, 2015.

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