According to the American Medical Association, my experience was not unique. It’s estimated that more than 83 million people live in areas without adequate access to a primary care physician. This doctor shortage highlights that my experience of not having ready access to a PCP is common, particularly for those in rural and urban locations. And it may get a lot worse. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates there will be a shortage of up to 124,000 doctors across all specialties in 2034.

There are many reasons for the doctor shortage, including the growing population, aging population, aging of the physician workforce, a limited number of medical schools and residency programs, physician burnout, and more. We can’t do anything about many of these issues, such as the growing and aging population. But we can address the issues leading physicians to want to retire, burnout, and the limited number of spots in medical schools and residency programs. This blog will focus on the first two.

In 2021, a national survey of US physicians showed 62.8% of physicians experienced burnout. This is a 38% increase from the previous year. And due to burnout, many physicians may retire early. In order to address the issue of physician burnout, we need a systemic approach that starts with medical schools and how medicine is taught and practiced.

One approach to address this burnout is incorporating physician wellness into medical school curriculums. Innovative entities such as the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine are doing this by teaching medical students how to practice and prioritize self care. 

Second, this culture of wellbeing must be incorporated into the health organizations where physicians will practice medicine. This evolution will take time. However, while medical schools are evolving, health care entities can use an emergent strategy to improve physician wellbeing in the near-term.

An emergent strategy could help provide a solution to physician burnout

An emergent strategy is the cumulative effect of day-to-day, tactical operating decisions used to solve immediate, unforeseen problems. Emergent strategies prioritize and invest in decisions made by staff who are not in a visionary, futuristic, or strategic position. With emergent strategies, these individuals identify potential approaches to address situations or problems that occur in their day-to-day work. Think of emergent strategy as an approach akin to trial and error. It can adapt, improve, and evolve. It is not a fixed and well-established method. This type of strategy is used when there isn’t a clear solution to a problem or the future is unknown. Addressing physician burnout is a good fit for this type of strategy because the problem doesn’t have a clear solution health care entities can just plug into their existing business models.

Read the full article about doctor shortages by Emmanuelle Verdieu at Christensen Institute.