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Addressing the Physician Shortage by Taking Advantage of an Untapped Medical Resource
In some regards, the United States of America is home to the greatest health care system in the world. However, problems exist regarding access to care, particularly in rural areas of the country.
These problems are due in part to misguided policy decisions, and as a result, the current U.S. system of training doctors after graduation from medical school fails to produce the proper number and mix of physicians and leaves thousands of qualified medical graduates without a pathway to participate in the health care workforce.
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This issue has never been adequately addressed in health care reforms, including in the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare). It can, however, be significantly ameliorated by making some relatively modest policy changes to the current framework for physician training and licensure that would take advantage of the pool of available medical graduates to help alleviate the current and predicted physician shortage. In particular, if states were to offer provisional medical licenses to these graduates, the U.S. health care system would be able to take advantage of an untapped source of medical talent and could address many of the problems regarding shortages of care. Furthermore, allowing these graduates into the market may open up new training mechanisms for medical graduates that could fundamentally improve access to care for many Americans.
A recent analysis by the Association of American Medical Colleges identified a significant shortage in the health care workforce throughout the country and predicted that the situation will get worse over the coming decades. The study predicts that demand for physician services will grow faster than supply and ultimately result in a nationwide shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians in both primary and specialty care by 2030.
A primary reason for this shortage is the aging American population, patients as well as physicians. The American population age 65 and older is forecasted to grow by 55 percent from 2015 to 2030. Additionally, more than one-third of currently active physicians will be 65 or older within the next decade, meaning that even if physicians are replaced at the same rate at which they retire, there is likely to be inadequate access to necessary health care services, especially in rural areas of the country.