By Pamela Murphy, MSW, AACOM Vice President of Government Relations
If you could live your life over again, would you do things differently? It’s a question that most of us have asked ourselves at some point in our lives. A recent survey conducted by Medscape asked physicians to consider this very question as they look back on their careers. The results reveal key insights about the current physician workforce and the federal policies that we need to support the future physician workforce.
- Doctors face greater pressures and demands than ever before. According to the survey, about half of primary care physicians report an influx of new patients due to the Affordable Care Act implementation. This combined with an aging population has resulted in the demand for physicians – particularly primary care physicians – increasing dramatically. As a result, recent projections estimate that the U.S. will face a physician workforce shortage of up to 94,700 physicians by 2025. This gap could negatively impact patient care.
- Fewer physicians would choose medicine as their career if they could make the choice again. Over the last few years, survey results have indicated a steady trend of fewer doctors saying they would choose medicine as a career. This year, about 64% of doctors said they would choose medicine as a career; only 45% would choose the same specialty; and just 1 in 4 would choose the same practice setting.
- However, primary care physicians are among the most likely to choose medicine again. Family physicians (73%) and internists (71%) topped the list of physicians most likely to choose medicine again. Of note, these specialties were both listed in the bottom 10 in compensation.
As lawmakers take steps to address the growing physician workforce shortage, they must provide critical support for the physician pipeline, particularly those considering going into primary care or serving in underserved and/or rural areas. Many of these physicians face unique challenges in their career, including a high level of student debt and relatively lower income levels compared to their peers.
Recent graduates of osteopathic medical schools report an average student loan burden of almost $230,000. About 1 in 3 osteopathic medical students indicate that they intend to go into primary care. Without federal financial aid and loan forgiveness programs that incentivize primary care and public service, these students face a heavy financial burden that they will shoulder for decades into their careers. This burden could also lead potential primary care physicians to choose other specialties, ultimately impacting the larger health care system and the patients it serves.
Congress is currently negotiating the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), the law governing federal student financial aid programs that medical students rely on to finance their education.
Now is the time for students and physicians to speak up and tell Congress to protect these programs and the future physician workforce.