Study prediction: Fewer doctors by 2024
Minnesota will likely face a shortage of primary care physicians over the next 10 years.
A study presented by the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) projected a shortfall of 850 primary care physicians by 2024, due in large part to the lack of annual growth in Minnesota’s graduate medical education programs.
According to the study, “…the current pipeline of graduates barely appears adequate to replace retirements as they occur. That, coupled with projected increases in demand because of an aging population, will result in a significant talent gap for physicians.”
By 2030, one in five residents in Minnesota will be age 65 and older.
The MHA study shows about 1,350 primary care doctors are expected to leave the profession in the next decade, from the approximately 5,000 in Minnesota today. At the same time, 1,300 doctors are expected to begin practice. Combined with increased demand, that would leave an 850-doctor shortfall.
“Many of our hospitals, especially those in Greater Minnesota, already have difficulty attracting physicians,” MHA president Lawrence Massa said.
Local medical facility leaders have had their recruitment efforts ramped up for a while.
“Douglas County Hospital has identified the projected demand for various specialties based upon the population of our service area,” said Carl Vaagenes, CEO of Douglas County Hospital. “In addition, we have tried to identify projected need based on estimated retirement dates of existing physicians.
“Our recruitment efforts require that we plan at least 18 to 24 months in advance. In some extraordinary cases, we have actually made commitments as early as four years in advance, knowing that the physician has been accepted into a residency program and has a strong connection and desire to practice in Alexandria.
“In order to continue to meet the primary care needs of patients, more and more rural settings are hiring advanced practice providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants who work in a collaborative agreement with a primary care physician to meet the needs of the patients,” Vaagenes said.
“It’s true the entire nation is experiencing complexities around recruiting primary care physicians. Sanford is fortunate in many ways because of the size of our organization. We have dedicated resources to focus on recruiting across a wide geographic area. Planning also plays an important role, we are always looking ahead 5 to 10 years at what our recruiting needs might be. Sanford is also reaching out to children and teens in many different venues to encourage careers in science,” said Kathryn Norby, Sanford physician recruitment manager.
When recruiting a physician to the area, there’s more to it than the medical practice.
“You may not expect it, but recruiting the spouse or significant other is often a very important part of the recruitment process,” Vaagenes said. “When recruiting physicians, we need to be able to demonstrate that they will have a successful practice. Secondly, we also need to do whatever we can to identify the interests or occupation of the spouse and do everything we can do make that a good fit. If we fail to make a strong connection with the spouse or significant other, our chances of recruiting the physician go down significantly. It’s important to note that the same requirements for recruitment also apply to retention, and we need to be just as deliberate and focused on retention as we are on recruitment.”
Vaagenes also noted that a high percentage of physicians who complete their residency training in Minnesota also decide to practice medicine in Minnesota.
“Conversely, if physicians are forced to leave Minnesota for residency training due to lack of residency spots being available, they are far less likely to return to Minnesota to practice medicine,” he said.
“I hope this new information will provide an impetus to policy makers to make the urgent decisions needed on both the state and federal levels to give our health professional students access to the clinical training and residency experience they need to become licensed to practice,” Massa added.
The MHA has reportedly suggested development of a statewide health-care task force to look into the doctor shortage situation. It also seeks more state medical education funding.
The study said the registered nurse supply should remain strong.
Forum News Service Reporter Don Davis contributed to this article.