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How the Doctor Shortage Will Impact Healthcare Organizations

According to a report from the American Association of Medical Colleges, the U.S. could face a shortage of over 120,000 physicians in the next decade. To make matters worse, that figure is only based on the needs of the population that uses the healthcare system.

When the millions of people who aren’t regular users of the healthcare system are accounted for, the shortage could be as great as 180,000 doctors.

The question on the mind of everyone in the healthcare space is ‘how did we get here?’ In this article, we’ll outline why the U.S. is facing such a severe physician shortage, how it can impact healthcare organizations and patients, and how your organization can prepare and adapt to an increasingly competitive talent market.

Why is the U.S. Facing a Doctor Shortage?

There’s no single factor causing the physician shortage. Rather, it’s a number of factors, many of which happen to be converging simultaneously. Some of the issues at play are that:

  • We Have an Aging Population—And Medical Workforce: The U.S.’ population is getting older. The U.S.’ population age 65 and older will grow by almost 50% in the next decade, increasing the need for care. At the same time, over 40% of physicians will be reaching retirement age themselves during the next decade. This spells an increased demand and dramatically reduced supply in a relatively short timespan.
  • We Can’t Offer Enough Residency Positions: Think buying a house is competitive? Try getting into a medical residency. Without more funding for residency programs, the final step in the physician-training process will remain a bottleneck.
  • Training Doctors Takes a Long Time: In the time between graduating high school and entering the workforce as a doctor, over a decade passes. The U.S.’ medical training programs take significantly longer—11 years at minimum— than other countries. That’s going to hurt us. To be ready for the doctor shortage we’ll be facing in 2034, we’d need to have already started training those physicians.

How Will The Doctor Shortage Manifest?

Let’s break this down into two sections: how the doctor shortage will impact healthcare organizations, and how it’ll impact patients.

How Will the Doctor Shortage Impact Healthcare Organizations?

As you know, it is already impacting healthcare organizations. The doctor shortage isn’t some far-off thing; it’s already here and you’re seeing it on a daily basis. If you need a refresher, here’s what the doctor shortage looks like to your organization—and what it’ll continue looking like for some time:

  • Low morale: COVID-19 forced organizations to drop any pretense the physicians—and nurses, PAs, and any other healthcare workers for that matter—were doing fine. With more patients to tend to and less support, physicians are being worked to the bone. It’s not sustainable, and it’s pushing some into administrative positions, early retirement, or out of the healthcare industry.
  • Lower-quality patient interactions: When physicians face increased workloads, they can’t devote as much time to each patient. As a result, there’s a greater risk for misdiagnosis and an overall decrease in the quality of care a doctor can provide.
  • Increased recruitment costs: With rising demand and a decreasing physician supply, healthcare organizations will need to compete to recruit the most talented physicians and specialists. Physician recruitment battles have the potential to seriously throw an organization’s finances out of order.

How Will the Doctor Shortage Impact Patients?

Like with healthcare organizations—the doctor shortage is already here. The commonplace experience of waiting months to see a specialist is a direct result. So how will the doctor shortage continue to impact patients? Some of the main ways include:

  • Increased wait times: Waiting for an appointment with a medical specialist isn’t like being on hold with your internet provider. It means that potentially serious health concerns are growing worse in the meantime, and patients are losing valuable time.
  • Decreased access in underserved areas: Patients in disenfranchised urban areas or isolated rural towns have long faced greater barriers to care than those living in cities and affluent areas. The past decade has seen an increase in efforts to connect these communities to healthcare services, but as the physician shortage intensifies, these at-risk groups will see their marginal gains shrink away.
  • Less incentive to seek medical attention: If patients know they’ll have to wait, know whoever they end up seeing won’t be familiar with their health history, and know the cost of care will be high, they may not end up seeking care at all. As a result, health conditions will grow worse or go untreated.

How Can You Prepare Your Organization?

Healthcare organizations that adapt their operations as the doctor shortage worsens can find success, but those that don’t will struggle or fail altogether. To prepare your organization, do the following:

  • Understand what physicians want: The physician shortage isn’t lost on doctors. They’ll be well-aware of their bargaining power, and to attract the best, you need to understand what they want. Salary isn’t enough; no physician can be paid enough to grind themselves to a pulp. To recruit successfully, you need to have a healthy, supportive, and diverse culture.
  • Establish relationships and partnerships: Building bridges between your organization and educational institutions can increase your exposure to the right groups. Find a way to help medical students, and show them why your organization is one they should be desperate to return to.
  • Market your jobs efficiently: The cost of recruiting a physician or specialty can rise to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in short order. Therefore, your organization can’t afford to place ads and recruitment spend in places where you’ll never find a meaningful ROI.

Using platforms like Continuing Education Company’s Career Center ensures that your jobs are put in front of qualified candidates. With CEC’s Career Center, your job listing can be delivered directly to the inbox of qualified candidates, highlighted in job search results, and efficiently distributed to over 1,000 other niche job boards throughout the country. As a result, you could see over a 500% increase in applicants and ultimately reduce the cost of physician recruitment!

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About Continuing Education Company

Continuing Education Company, Inc. (CEC) is an independent, non-profit, 501 (c)(3) continuing medical education organization that has been developing and presenting CME events for over 30 years. CEC’s mission is to develop and provide educational opportunities to improve the skills and knowledge of medical and healthcare professionals.

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