It’s no secret that the Primary-Care Physician shortage is already wreaking havoc in the United States. In New York City this year, we have seen our longtime family doctors sell their practices to hospitals or suddenly announce they are becoming “private” doctors, taking cash-only patients. Good family doctors have been let go from local clinics and replaced by Nurse Practitioners and Physicians Assistants.
We’re not knocking mid-level practitioners. They serve a strong purpose in the medical world. However, America needs Primary-Care Physicians more than ever as statistics say the majority of family doctors are either retiring or near retirement age and may not be replaced.
Dr. Pauline Chen wrote in the New York Times one year ago that the USA was short approximately 9,000 Primary-Care Physicians, and there might be even fewer today. Dr. Chen wrote that the primary care doctor shortage will grow more serious in the next 15 years, with “a shortfall of an estimated 65,000 doctors.”
“These are the general internists, family doctors, geriatricians and general pediatricians, the doctors responsible for diagnosing new illnesses, managing chronic ones, advocating preventive care and protecting wellness,” Dr. Chen wrote.
The UMHS Pulse looks at five reasons why prospective U.S and Caribbean medical school students should consider becoming a Primary-Care Physician to fill the growing void:
Job Security: It’s a safe bet that Primary-Care Physicians will be in demand for many years as the shortage worsens. PhysiciansPractice.com says the American Academy of Family Physicians predicts that by 2020, “demand for family physicians in the U.S. will exceed the supply.”
Being a PCP is a Privilege: Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, wrote on KevinMD.com about why being a Primary-Care Physician is so vital today. “I went to medical school to learn how to counsel and take care of patients,” Dr. Swanson said. “I spent those longs nights of residency hopeful I would acquire the skills to know the science and the variance of normal well enough that I could do what I needed to help support and guide nervous families. And I really like practicing medicine. It’s a privilege to help. And as I’ve said before, I get so much more than I give while in clinic.” (http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2011/07/primary-care-doctor-utter-privilege.html)
The Pay is Improving: Salary has been one of the major reasons why many med students in the past chose not to become Primary-Care Physicians, but this is changing.
PreMedLifeMagazine.com said, “A recent report published by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) reveals that new methods for paying primary-care physicians may soon help increase their pay. According to the group’s report, the average earnings for primary-care physicians increased around 5.2%, which translates to a faster jump than those of specialists. ”
There are also tax-benefit incentives for PCPs working in underserved regions. Medicare is currently providing a 10 percent bonus payment for PCPs. Medicaid payment rates to Primary-Care Physicians are being increased “to at least 100 percent of associated Medicare rates.” (http://www.premedlife.com/1/post/2012/12/the-new-primary-care-physician_00345.html#sthash.LJRhwiEg.dpuf)
Obamacare Means More PCPs Are Needed: In the past, many people would only go to hospital emergency rooms when they got sick instead of seeing a regular doctor. This is all changing as of January 1, 2014 when the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare insurance plans kick in and the newly insured start seeking care. CNN.com reported in October that the growing patient demand for services may crash the health care system. (http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/02/health/obamacare-doctor-shortage/) The newly insured will all need Primary-Care Providers.
Being a PCP is a Challenge: Brian Secemsky, M.D. wrote in the Huffington Post about the ongoing struggles and rewards of being a PCP. “The practice of primary care medicine is not an easy one,” Dr. Secemsky wrote. “In fact, it is often characterized as one of the most challenging careers within the field of medicine. Despite this, the immense pleasure and personal reward that is intrinsically involved in longitudinal and holistic patient care is what often drives future PCPs into the field.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-secemsky/primary-care-physicians-_b_4385697.html)