A Future Doctor Shortage?

Dr. Harding Young has been a family physician for almost 20 years. While he loves his work, the patient load has been steadily increasing at St. Francis Medical Center.

"We're seeing more patients, and we are asked to do more, with basically the same number of physicians," Young says.

It's not just at St. Francis, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. A growing lack of new doctors may be the next big American health crisis, reports CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes.

"We are an aging population, a growing population," says Dr. Jordan Cohen, with the Association of American Medical Colleges. "And our physician supply has not kept pace with the growth."

Now the medical community is taking a hard look at the numbers.

"We are going to be recommending a 30 percent increase in the capacity of medical schools to prepare physicians for future practice," Cohen says.

Until recently, most in the medical community believed managed health care would reduce patient demand and create a "doctor surplus," so most medical schools limited their admissions, and Congress reduced Medicare funding for residency programs — the post-medical school specialist training doctors need.

"The surplus was a figment of the imagination of planners, it never happened," says Dr. Buzz Cooper, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been following the issue of physician supply for decades. "There must be more residents. If there aren't more residents then there won't be more doctors."

Critics deny a crisis looms, instead saying the data points more to a problem of recruiting doctors to poor communities and rural areas.

But one study found by 2020 the United States will be short 85,000 doctors, and many new doctors say they don't want to work long hours, leaving hospitals like St. Francis, that serve poor communities, potential victims.

"We have numerous physicians here that are very committed to the community," says Dr. Michael Stephen, the emergency room director at St. Francis. "If we aren't able to get those same types of physicians it scares me for the patients that'll be here 10, 15 years from now."

Because you can't make doctors overnight, if a crisis is looming, it will take decades to cure.
  • Gina Pace

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