Doctor shortage ahead

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that a shortage of medical doctors in America is going to get worse.  The shortfall could reach 105,000 doctors by 2030, at a time when the country’s population is both growing and aging.

Dr. Grant Fowler, family medicine physician with UT Health and Memorial Hermann in the Texas Medical Center, says the problem is real.  “You need more physicians to care for an older population,” he notes, “and you need sometimes more specialists like orthopedics and anesthesia.”  That’s to deal with older folks’ tendency toward bad knees and broken hips.

“Specifically to Texas, it’s very interesting,” Dr. Fowler says.  “We graduate more medical students than we have residency positions.  So as it turns out, in Texas we’re training other states’ doctors.”  With Texas-trained doctors leaving for other states, that could leave Texas in an even worse situation.

Dr. Fowler sees some promise in telemedicine, or doctors seeing patients via video linkup.  “Certain subspecialties like dermatology, if you put a camera on whatever rash or lesion that you’ve got,” he says, “the dermatologist may be able to diagnose it without having to bring somebody into clinic.”  That’s no substitute for hands-on care, but it could have its uses.  In rural areas, he says telemedicine could be supplemented by nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants.

Importing doctors from other countries is already going on, Dr. Fowler points out.  “Currently in the United States, about 1 in 4 doctors practicing were born in another country,” he observes.  “So we’ve been importing [doctors] for a long time.  Certain states even more so, like New York.  Texas is pretty big for that too.”  He says it makes sense for America’s increasingly diverse population to be served by an international corps of doctors.

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