Originally created 08/25/06

Shortage of doctors predicted

ATLANTA - Georgia needs to move quickly to educate physicians and others to avoid a dramatic shortfall in the number of health-care professionals over the next decade, educational and medical experts told lawmakers Thursday.

The warnings came at a joint meeting of the House and Senate Health and Human Services committees.

"We have shortages currently that are broad and deep and rather pervasive," said Dr. Daniel W. Rahn, president of the Medical College of Georgia and newly named senior vice chancellor for health and medical programs at the University System of Georgia.

One of the best-documented shortages is in the number of nurses. The state already has 9,000 fewer nurses than it needs, a figure that is expected to balloon to 20,000 by 2012.

Meanwhile, a nationwide shortage of nurses will hit 500,000 by 2015.

A range of other health-care professions will also see more demand than the number of workers available, Dr. Rahn said.

In the next 10 years, Dr. Rahn said they expect a significant physician shortage.

And because of the time it takes for students to graduate and finish their residencies, it could take a decade for any changes made now to have an effect.

"It is time to be doing that," Dr. Rahn said.

Some help could be on the way. Ben Robinson, executive director of the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce, said initiatives already under way could boost the number of health-care professionals coming out of Georgia's education system by 25 percent.

And when the new medical school planned for Savannah opens up, the increase could be at least 35 to 40 percent, Mr. Robinson said.

The shortage stems, at least partly, from the trends that have been changing the demographics of the country, said Edward Salsberg, director of the Center for Workforce Studies and associate vice president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, which represents 125 schools.

Not only is the nation getting older as the Baby Boomer generation ages, the population is growing, Mr. Salsberg said. And people are visiting the doctor more frequently than in the past because of advances in health-care technology.

"We are keeping people alive longer and more active, but it does not mean we are reducing the need for physician services," Mr. Salsberg said.

In the 1980s, the medical community predicted a surplus of doctors, Mr. Salsberg said, leading states - which support two-thirds of the country's medical schools - away from investing in larger enrollments.

The 1990s brought along managed care and the belief that it would lead to more efficient health care and the need for fewer doctors.

When that did not happen, physicians began to realize there weren't enough students coming down the pipeline to meet the nation's needs.

"We're now looking at how many doctors we need in 2020," Mr. Salsberg said.

One route Georgia could take is to get medical students to do their residencies in the state.

Mr. Salsberg cited studies showing that 39 percent of physicians stay in the state where they went to medical school, while 65 percent remain in state if they attended both medical school and their residency program there.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.


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