Experts fear future doctor shortage

Experts fear future doctor shortage »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. - Now that the health care overhaul legislation is the law of the land, many medical experts warn there may not be enough doctors to treat everyone in the future.

There aren’t enough family physicians now, experts say, and the new health care law will mean millions of newly insured people will be going to the doctor.

OHSU associate dean of education Dr. Don Girard said Massachusetts is an example of how giving more people insurance drives demand.

“People had to line up to have access because of limited supplies of providers,” he said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges reports the nation could face a shortage of 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years with the greatest demand for primary care physicians. The shortage could lead to longer wait times for patients and more limited access to health care.

Experts say the country needs 30 percent more doctors within the next decade. They say that fewer medical students are becoming family physicians and are choosing to become higher paid specialists instead.

Sharl Azar, a medical student at OHSU, who dreams of treating cancer patients, said he understands why classmates who might want to be family physicians are thinking twice.

“As much as we don’t want to think about money, the sad truth is that we’ve been saddled with enormous debt coming out of medical school,” he said.

Girard said a solution to the shortage may not be as simple as opening the door to more medical students.

“Just training one medical student enlists lots of dollars and lots of personnel to support. So it’s not an easy thing to just add one more student,” he said.

Girard said the answer isn’t just to train more doctors; instead, he said patients may need to rely more on nurses and physician assistants.

Twenty-eight states are debating whether to expand the authority of nurse practitioners. In Oregon, nurses with advanced degrees can run their own private practice.