Arpa R. Iyer MD, a psychiatrist, assistant professor and faculty at Frisco Counseling and Wellness, UT Southwestern Medical Center, says that there is a growing national shortage of physicians, which, although seen throughout the nation, is felt most significantly in rural areas.
“In a system where not enough physicians are trained, and attending physicians are increasingly opting out of medicine due to burnout, the solution to the physician shortage is a complex one,” she says. “Part of my training was in London where my co-students and I were surprised to find that our British medical student peers appeared significantly happier, less stressed and more balanced.
“We can prevent losing some of our practicing physicians by changing the system into one that is more supportive of physician wellness, by encouraging mental health support when needed and by recognizing the non-work related needs of physicians too,” she adds.
Karima Benameur, MD, a neurologist, also agrees that supporting physicians is important, but adds that non-physician providers can help reduce the burden.
Further reading: Why are women leaving medicine?
“There is a 10% shortage of neurologists,” she says. “Solutions include addressing burnout, but also training advanced practice providers (APPs) adequately. They get very little to no training in neurology. Hiring them from school and expecting them to function in a neurology clinic or ward does not work, but I don't think not using APPs is the solution either... so training APPs is best.”
Doctors who have left medicine for administrative roles are not completely insulated from the realities of the physician shortage. One physician executive even expressed a tinge of guilt at not providing direct patient care. He explains that he receives a number of job applications from doctors who are trying to find work in the health insurance industry, and that many of them are looking to escape from the pressures of medical practice.
He suggests that improving the physician work environment would prevent attrition from medicine, which could help alleviate the effects of the physician shortage.