KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Even With New Medical Schools Opening, Shortages Mar Workforce

Nearly two dozen medical schools have recently opened or may open across America, "the most at any time since the 1960s and '70s," The New York Times reports. These new institutions "are seeking to address an imbalance in American medicine that has been growing for a quarter century. Many bright students were fleeing to offshore medical schools, or giving up hope entirely, when they could not get into domestic schools. Meanwhile, American hospitals were using foreign-trained and foreign-born physicians to fill medical residencies. During the 1980s and '90s only one new medical school was established."

Added to the demand for physicians is the growing and aging population and impending retirement of as many as a third of current doctors "and the expectation that, the present political climate notwithstanding, changes in health care policy will eventually bring a tide of newly insured patients into the American health care system." Some say the gap in primary care should benefit, particularly in rural areas, but others insist that doctors tend to "congregate in affluent, urban and suburban areas that already have a generous supply" (Hartocollis, 2/14).

The Oakland Tribune/San Mateo County Times reports that demand for geriatricians continues to increase, but the supply is low. "Throughout the U.S., 7,590 certified geriatricians currently are registered - one geriatrician for every 2,500 Americans 75 or older. The ratio is expected to drop to one geriatrician for every 4,254 older Americans in 2030. In California, only about 700 physicians identify themselves as geriatricians, said Dr. Cheryl Phillips, president of the American Geriatrics Society" (Aragone, 2/14).

The supply of pediatric specialists in the workforce also is lagging, The Columbus Dispatch reports. "Doctors who specialize in neurology, development and behavioral problems, diabetes, lung disease and intestinal disorders are in the highest demand, according to a survey of children's hospitals late last year by the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions." Officials want more training spots for children's care throughout the nation, The Dispatch reports. But there are problems. "In some ways, Ohio is faring well. The state is home to six children's hospitals, meaning most specialists are within a couple of hours' drive for everyone. But doctors in high demand and those who recruit them say the situation is far from ideal." Factors such as the limited number of pediatric residencies and fellowships, training requirements for pediatric subspecialties and reimbursement rates for certain types of care (Crane, 2/15).

The Fresno Bee/McClatchy, meanwhile, reports that nursing school graduates in Texas are having a hard time finding jobs. "A surge of applicants from nursing schools and from other states, as well as older nurses returning to the work force, has increased competition for jobs. Graduates are sending out hundreds of résumés, scouring hospital Web sites and bemoaning a crisis they never expected: a shortage of jobs in a profession once hailed as recession-proof" (Jarvis, 2/15).

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