Oregon's doctor shortage expected to grow

Oregon's doctor shortage expected to grow

EUGENE, Ore. – Family doctors are already in short supply, and now there are predictions the shortage is going to get even worse.

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years.

The Regional Vice President of PeaceHealth Medical Group in Eugene, Henry Veldman, says he's hearing even bigger numbers. "There's approximately 800,000 licensed physicians in America. Within the next 5 years or so they're estimating 300,000 are going to retire."

More patients and fewer doctors could lead to longer wait times and shorter doctor visits.

Veldman says with millions of more people having insurance under recently passed health care reform, access will be even harder. He says PeaceHealth is looking into "team-based" medicine. "So you have the physician, you have some nurses, you have health coaches and we see that as a way to combat the coming physician shortage," he says.

Another problem is that fewer medical students are going into primary care, choosing to become higher paid specialists.

Sharl Azar is a medical student at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. He understands why classmates who might want to be family doctors, 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."

Dr. Don Girard, OHSU Associate Dean says the answer isn't to just train more doctors. "Just training one medical student enlists lots of dollars and lots of personnel to support," he says.

Girard says patients may need to rely more on nurses and physician assistants.

At least 28 states are debating whether to expand the authority of nurse practitioners. In Oregon, nurses with advanced degrees can run their own private practice.