Doctor Shortage + Increased Life Expectancy = Trouble?For some reason you don’t hear about it much in the mainstream media. But three things are happening that, when combined, could be a big concern for our American healthcare system…
- The population is getting comparatively older
- Our life expectancy is increasing
- There are currently not enough doctors
We’re Getting Old
Starting with the first point above… According to the U.S. government, 20 percent of the U.S. population, or 71.5 million people, will be over 65 by the year 2030 compared to 37 million senior Americans in 2006.
Wow. That’s an increase of 48 percent.
We Live Longer
On to the second point above… Americans are living longer and longer. Since 1950 life expectancy for men and women has climbed every decade.
Here are the numbers for the men…
1950: 65 years
1960: 67 years
1970: 68 years
1980: 70 years
1990: 72 years
2000: 74 years
Where Are All the Doctors?
Moving on to the third point above… We can’t provide doctors with licenses fast enough. The U.S. will have about 750,000 doctors by 2025, about 159,000 fewer than it needs, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Specialists in various disciplines are lacking. For example, the State of New York reported last month that seven of its counties had no practicing obstetricians. At the same time, the state announced it was going to provide $11.06 million in funding over five years, to be used specificially to aid physicians with repayment of qualified medical school loans in exchange for a minimum five-year commitment to practice in an underserved area of New York state.
News reports out of Austin last week reported a severe doctor shortage in central Texas. Other states are dealing with similar issues.
More Medical Students Are Now Enrolling
The good news is that the number of accredited medical schools in the U.S. is growing. Four new schools this year should bring the number to 130. Four or five more schools should begin educating medical students in 2010 or 2011.
And enrollment at medical schools is apparently at an all-time high, according to the Associated Press, which reported last month that 42,231 people applied to U.S. medical schools in 2008, and 18,036 enrolled.
Is A National Crisis Avoidable?
The question is: will this trend of educating more new doctors continue, and will the rate of their introduction into the workforce be enough to handle all of our U.S. seniors? You’ve got to figure that, as the age of the population skews towards the seniors, a good number of senior doctors will be retiring as well.
This is definitely a situation to monitor indefinitely.