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BellaOnline's Geriatrics Editor

Shortage of Physicians

While no one would argue the fact that physicians, as a whole, have a higher salary than most, one should also keep in mind the sacrifices they make, such as virtually giving up their freedom for 7-11 years after college to devote themselves to the study of medicine. Many finish their training with an educational debt in the 6-figure range.

Primary care physicians, on average, personally make less per hour than plumbers; they just work a lot of hours. One can miss but so many of her children’s soccer games and postpone but so many precious family vacations for the sake of the job before becoming weary. Surprisingly, sometimes some doctors find that after paying the rent, lease payments, salaries, and other overhead expenses, they have virtually no money left to pay themselves for the pay period. As a result of rising overhead costs and dwindling reimbursements, many physicians are finding themselves at a crossroads.

While many primary care physicians in general are in dwindling supply, the ranks of those who specialize in care of the elderly patient, geriatricians, are dwindling particularly fast. According to a recent article in the American Medical News (a publication of the American Medical Association), there are approximately 7,100 geriatricians in the U.S., which is 22% fewer than in 2000.

The Institute of Medicine predicts that there will not be enough geriatricians to take care of the 78 million baby boomers who will turn 65 in 2011. While experts do anticipate an overall increase in the number of geriatricians, the estimated 8,000 geriatricians estimated to be in practice by 2030 will still fall far short of the 36,000 needed, according to the Association of Directors of Geriatric Academic Programs.

“The supply side is really scary,” said John W. Rowe, MD, the Institute of Medicine’s report’s committee chair, professor of health policy at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York.

The biggest reason for the deficit in the U.S. supply of geriatricians is low reimbursement. While Medicare solvency is a major concern for the United States, the work force capable of providing the basic needs for millions of Americans is also of great concern. “Even if there is enough money, there is not going to be anybody there to provide the care,” said Dr. Rowe.

While general internists and family physicians care for many seniors, geriatricians are particularly adept at dealing with the special nuances of life in the golden years, which makes their expertise particularly valuable.

What can you do to help yourself? Live a healthy lifestyle to ward off diseases. Also, become your own best health advocate. Learn about your conditions and be an active participant in your health care.

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Content copyright © 2013 by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. All rights reserved.
This content was written by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Patricia Villani, MPA, PhD for details.

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