Americans are facing an increasing shortage of primary care physicians, and the problem is only expected to get worse over the next 10 years.
Imagine a world where everyone has to travel hours to find a doctor who is able to provide treatment and lifesaving medicine. Imagine having a child fall ill, but the nearest pediatrician being many miles away.
This shortage is already affecting communities nationwide. Many have begun to lack much-needed medical services, and this pressure is most deeply felt in rural communities.
The coming crisis has multiple causes, one being the aging pool of physicians. As older physicians begin to retire over the next decade, the number of physicians will drop. By 2030 there will be a shortage of as many as 104,900 physicians.
Part of this problem stems from the fact that medical residency programs—a training requirement that is a prerequisite for becoming a board-certified physician—are not churning out new doctors at a sufficient rate.
The physician shortage problem is so bad that some states, like Missouri, have decided to bypass the residency requirement in order to attract medical graduates who are not able to participate in residency training programs.
Under the supervision of a fully licensed physician, these graduates are to be given some form of provisional license, which would allow them to practice medicine for a limited time without a residency.
Many of these medical graduates are highly trained and educated, having passed the United States Medical Licensing Exams.
Given that nurse practitioners and physician assistants are already given a significant amount of autonomy, allowing these graduates to practice in some capacity can only help curb the rising physician shortage.
Longer-term solutions should also involve fundamentally reforming graduate medical education. One such potential solution has been discussed at length by Heritage Foundation senior fellow and practicing surgeon Dr. John O’Shea.
Health care is a critical issue for all Americans. As we move forward in the process of reforming our overall health care system, we must not forget the doctors who actually provide the care.
Until we give American doctors more freedom to practice medicine across the country, the current restrictions will only continue to reduce access to care for the ordinary Americans politicians are trying to help.