Approximately 5,000 new graduates enter primary care training each year. The problem is, we need a lot more than that.
The U.S. will face a shortage of more than 90,000 primary care physicians by 2020 and 130,000 by 2025, according to nonprofit firm the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
But it gets worse. Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, millions of formerly uninsured people will have access to health care. It’s estimated that 14 million people will be enrolled by 2014, which means the demand for physicians is crucial in the coming years. Not to mention America’s population is ageing fast.
Primary care doctors already have to see more patients than non-primary doctors on a daily basis and they don’t get much time to spend with each patient, according to a new study conducted by Nerdwallet Health. They also make, on average, 65% less than non-primary care doctors, yet are required to go through similar years of higher education, completing eight years of undergraduate and graduate education and at least three years in residency, for a total time investment of more than a decade.
Physicians who work in gastroenterology, orthopedics, and radiology — the top ranked medical specialties — have an average salary of $365,000, whereas physicians who work in pediatrics, family, and internal medicine — the lowest ranked medical specialties — bring home around $US177,000 annually.
After graduation, the median annual stipend for residents and fellows is around $US55,750, yet 79% of medical school graduates acquired education debts of over $US100,000 in 2012, the study found. The average medical school debt last year was $166,750.
When you consider high tuition cost, years of intense study and training, and an influx of patients primary care doctors are faced with while making considerably less money than other speciality doctors, it makes sense that medical students want to maximise their incomes by choosing a higher-paying specialty.
Below is a chart by Nerdwallet Health comparing doctor compensation with other factors, including total hours worked and weekly patient visits among the 15 most common medical specialties:
What should be done to fix this shortage problem? Should medical school take a step to encourage students to go into primary care? Please let us know in the comments section.
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