Doctor shortage

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, 9/11, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: Paging Dr. Shortage. 

If you think it’s hard to get an appointment with your family physician now, just wait. The United States already has fewer doctors than it needs. But by 2030, we’ll be 100,000 doctors too few, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

REICHARD: What’s driving the shortage? It’s partly demographics. Americans are living longer. Older people need more medical care.

Medical schools are ramping up to meet that need. They graduate more doctors than ever. But they can’t keep up with demand. And that’s partly because doctors are working fewer hours and retiring early. Here to explain why is WORLD Radio’s Leigh Jones.

LEIGH JONES, NEWS EDITOR: When Dr. Holly Austin was in medical school, doctors-in-training picked their specialties based on their talents. Today, medical students have very different considerations.

AUSTIN: And now everyone wants to know what should I go into to have the best work-life balance? And so the focus has really switched from what do you enjoy doing or what is the best utilization of your talents to what’s the best way that I could have a great life and enjoy my outside pursuits while still practicing medicine.

Austin mentors medical students in Kansas City through the Christian Medical and Dental Associations. She gets questions about work-life balance from both men and women, but women especially are focused on the way their work will affect their families.

AUSTIN: One of the things that I was taught growing up was you can have it all. You can be a career woman, you can have a family, you can be a wife and a mother and you can do everything well.

Turns out, that’s not true. And today’s doctors-in-training know it.

AUSTIN: There’s only so much of you to go around, and I think women are now realizing that you have to make sacrifices in one part of your life to excel in other parts.

About half of today’s U.S. medical school graduates are women. Not only are they choosing specialties that offer a better work-life balance, they’re also choosing to work fewer hours. And that’s started something of a chain reaction.

Dr. Thomas Blackwell is an associate dean at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

BLACKWELL: And male physicians are beginning to see females do this and think, hey, you know what? They probably got it right. This is probably a pretty good way to live your life. So I think female physicians have kind of led this and males are falling in behind, a little late to the party but they’re coming to it.

He’s seen the emphasis on work-life balance grow along with the focus on physician well-being. Burnout among doctors has become a big problem.

Why? Physicians work less today than they did 30 years ago, but still, an 80-hour work week isn’t unusual.

Yet Blackwell says the number of hours doctors work matters less than the way they work them. Most doctors no longer run their own practices. They work as employees of large medical groups.

BLACKWELL: And as you join these big groups, you no longer have the capacity to decide how many patients you are going to see, when you’re going to work, where you’re going to work. There is a significant loss of autonomy and we believe that contributes to physician burnout.

Dr. David Stevens heads the Christian Medical and Dental Associations. He compares today’s healthcare industry to a factory, where doctors feel like they’ve been reduced to units of production.

STEVENS: So there’s quotas that you’re supposed to be meeting 25, 30 patients a day, and we’ve got to get the volume up because we have all these overhead charges that need to be paid, and that has decreased satisfaction I think both for patients and physicians.

Stevens says dissatisfaction eventually leads to disillusionment, especially for Christian healthcare professionals.

STEVENS: People get a few years of practice, and they think, wow, is my life going to be like this for the rest of my life? I want to have ministry. I want to build myself into people’s lives. I want to provide them spiritual and physical healing, and I’m not having the opportunity to do that like I hoped.

While he understands why doctors choose to work less and often retire early, Stevens worries about how that will affect patients and, ultimately, the medical profession as a whole.

STEVENS: And if we ever needed Christians in healthcare, we need them now…

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Leigh Jones.

(Photo/, Wavebreakmedia)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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