A new online program aims to help address the nation's physician shortage and open the door to new opportunities for physicians who are currently retired, contemplating retirement, or slightly disabled.
The numbers, from the Association of American Medical Colleges, are sobering. By 2025, the US physician shortage is estimated to reach 130,000.
“If there aren’t enough doctors at the head of the line getting people into the system, it’s going to die,” says Leonard Glass, MD, retired University of California San Diego School of Medicine professor and private-practice physician. “And there aren’t enough physician assistants and nurse practitioners to really make a dent in the number.”
But a new online program, Physician Retraining and Reentry, created in collaboration with UC San Diego aims to help address this shortage, and in many respects, open the door to new opportunities for physicians who are currently retired, contemplating retirement, or slightly disabled.
Assessing the Problem
It was several years ago when, fueled by newspaper and magazine articles that referenced the enormity and prognosis of the physician shortage, Glass recognized that something needed to change.
“I think there’s only been 5 new medical schools built in the last decade or so,” he says. “And that’s really a drop in the bucket because only a small percentage of the graduates go into family medicine.”
As a retired surgeon, Glass understood that many physicians are unable to practice surgery because of a slight physical disability; or they’re no longer practicing with gusto due to occupational burnout.
“People who have gotten into medical administration now want to get back into patient care,” Glass says.
But he also recognized the challenges and the expense associated with bringing all of these practitioners back onto campus. So he turned to the Internet, which he calls “the future of education,” as well as friends, colleagues, software engineers and entrepreneurs, and began to move forward with what eventually became a partnership with UC San Diego.
Less than two years later, PRR has enrolled close to 100 healthcare practitioners and graduated nearly 20 from the 15-course, 180-hour program that was designed and written by UC San Diego School of Medicine professors and primary care physicians.
Building a Program
Teaching primary care medicine is the program’s focus.
“We do not teach pediatrics, surgery, anesthesia or hospital work,” Glass explains. “We do cover everything else.”
Each of the 15 courses is a module, and program participants progress at their own pace. They have one year to complete the program, but Glass says most finish it within 4 to 6 months. Each module includes 3 exams, given before, during, and after the module is completed, followed by a one-day practical exam at the end of the curriculum.
David Bazzo, MD, chief medical officer for PRR and a professor of family and preventive medicine at UC San Diego, says the program’s goal is to deliver the latest in primary care medical knowledge to participants.
“Physicians completing the program will have mastered the medical knowledge and diagnostic skills necessary to serve as outstanding general practitioners,” he says.
Tuition is $8,500, and graduate job placement assistance is provided.
“We assist participants in finding a job,” Glass says. “Many of our people find 20, 30, or 40 hours a week of employment. There are so many jobs out there, and we help them find those jobs by scouring the Internet and feeding those openings to our graduates.”
Some of these jobs are with Federally Qualified Health Centers, of which Glass says there are more than 9,000 across the U.S.
“They all need doctors,” he says. “Drug store chains have established small outpatient clinics, and some large food companies are thinking of doing the same thing. So, there’s a tremendous need for family doctors.”
Assessing the Benefits
Glass says that the benefits of the PRR program to physicians are significant. He explains that while many individuals went to medical school to become family doctors, they instead segued into one specialty or another. Now, because they no longer enjoy the work they’re doing, they’ve come full circle in their desire to become family physicians.
“We have almost every specialty you can think of in our program,” Glass says. “For example, we have a handful of psychiatrists in the program. We’re allowing them to transition out of something that they’re not enamored with anymore and they’re a little burned out.”
But most important is that while opening the door to opportunity for many healthcare practitioners, the program is actively doing something to benefit the medical profession by addressing the physician shortage.
“And in a broader scope, we’re benefiting the public,” Glass says. “We’re making family practice physicians more readily available.”