US Has Huge Shortage of Primary Care Docs

Health care reform efforts may suffer
By Jess Kilby,  Newser User
Posted Jun 20, 2009 2:41 AM CDT
Dr. Alexis Dunne talks with patient Michael McCoy, right, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Monday, Sept. 8, 2008, in Chicago where she plans to be a primary care doctor.    (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
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(Newser) – Congress may be unable to agree on the details of an overhauled health care system, but there’s one fact on which there’s little debate: America urgently needs more primary care doctors. Experts predict the nationwide shortage of family physicians will reach 40,000 within the next decade, a shortfall that could become “much more severe” if the US moves toward universal health care, the Washington Post reports.

The various health care reform proposals include incentives to coax medical students away from lucrative specialist areas and into family practice, but experts note the dozen years it takes to train a doctor means there’s no quick fix for the shortage. And changing perceptions among med students may be the biggest hurdle. "The attitude is that primary care is a fallback if you're not smart enough or good enough," said one recent graduate.