According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the medical community expects a shortage of over 130,000 family physicians by the year 2025. In addition, 21 different medical specialties are predicting shortages in their fields as well. Some of the most notable shortages are expected to occur in the fields of surgery, oncology and various pediatric specialties.
Understanding the Shortage
Today’s graduating physicians are flocking toward residencies in comfortable specialties with appealing schedules and limited demands, such as dermatology and radiology. However, as the Baby Boomers age, demand for primary care physicians, surgeons, cardiologists and oncologists increases. Likewise, even though there are plenty of pediatricians available for children in the United States, there are not enough doctors choosing pediatric specialties, such as pediatric oncology or endocrinology.
This shortage of doctors is complicated by several other factors as well, including the work habits of existing doctors and the significant amount of time it takes for a medical student to become a licensed physician. Today’s physicians work fewer hours per week than they did in the past. In fact, according to data published by the National Institutes of Health, nonresident physician hours decreased by approximately 5.7 percent from 2006 to 2008. This trend continues today.
It takes a minimum of seven years to become a physician after completing undergraduate study. For physicians pursuing certain specialties, the required education takes even longer. Furthermore, because of the pressures of the economy, few medical colleges are able to increase their class sizes or offer additional financial aid to entice students.
Opportunities for Foreign Students
Although the physician shortage is causing problems for patients in the United States, it also presents significant opportunities for students, including those studying both here in the US and overseas. Because the US increasingly needs doctors in certain specialties, many employers are offering incentives to new doctors who are willing to fill the openings. And, because openings are so plentiful, foreign physicians with the right credentials can easily find a US position within the specialty of their choice. Thus, medical students studying in foreign countries can leverage this shortage to their benefit while simultaneously providing needed medical care to patients in the US.
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