Will the Primary Care Shortage Get Worse?
Last week, NPR aired a story examining the prognosis for primary care providers in the United States. The country will have tens of thousands fewer health care providers than it needs to care for its the population by 2015, and the shortage is expected to hit rural and underserved areas especially hard.
Part of the problem, the story reports, is that medical students—often saddled with massive student loan debt—are choosing specialties over primary care and family medicine. In addition to higher salaries, specialties allow more schedule flexibility and predictability, and less stress. The nursing workforce, too, has a looming shortage. Many nurses are close to retirement, and a shortage of nurse faculty is making it difficult for nursing schools to educate the next generation.
Provisions of the Affordable Care Act may help alleviate the shortage in the areas most hard-hit, by providing loan forgiveness or other incentives for providers who practice primary care in underserved areas. “A lot of the money in the Affordable Care Act went to beef up programs that train primary care providers, not just doctors but nurse practitioners, physician assistants, what we call mid-level providers,” Julie Rovner, NPR health policy correspondent, said. Primary care “doesn’t necessarily have to be provided by someone with an MD after their name… [There are] lots of studies that say good primary care can be delivered by people like nurse practitioners, by physician assistants, by nurses.”
The show also took calls from listeners—a neurologist, a recent nursing school graduate, a surgical subspecialist, and a nurse practitioner, among them.
Listen to the NPR story or read the transcript here.