Tags: physician | shortage | debt | doctor

Medical-Student Debt Is Causing the Physician Shortage

By Barry Elias   |   Friday, 10 Aug 2012 08:57 AM

The looming physician shortage will short-circuit any well-intentioned healthcare reform. Reforming the cost of medical training is critical to ensuring affordable, high-quality healthcare delivery.
 
The average debt for a graduating medical school student is nearly $160,000 —roughly equal to the average annual salary of a primary care physician.

This financial reality caused a 25 percent decrease in primary care providers from 2002 to 2007, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The association estimates the United States will face a physician shortage of 150,000 over the next 15 years. A significant portion of this deficit will be in primary care providers, the key source of preventive care that can alleviate future escalations in healthcare expenditures.
 
While the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 provides a 10 percent increase in payments to primary care providers, the main source of compensation for the 110,000 resident physicians — Medicare — remains essentially constant. This legislation may not provide enough incentive to reduce the shortage significantly.
 
A 2011 paper published in Academic Medicine by Drs. S. Ryan Greysen, Candice Chen and Fitzhugh Mullan, suggests the rising levels of medical school indebtedness is driving the shortage of primary care physicians, and the maximum debt ceiling is rapidly approaching. In addition, these physicians assert, “there is no consensus on the true cost of educating a medical student, which limits accountability to students and society for these costs.”

This analysis implies tuition may be inflated to subsidize other areas. A more transparent accounting of current expenditures would probably reduce the growth in medical-training costs. Moreover, technology may provide more cost-effective learning tools, which could drive costs lower.
 
As cost and debt falls, more physicians would be inclined to practice primary care.

Healthcare reform cannot be achieved without medical education reform.

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