State prepares for shortage of doctors

Minnesota could soon be short 2,000 doctors, and the University’s Med School is preparing.

Kelsey Christensen

The United States will be squeezed for caregivers as many physicians approach the age of retirement, according to Minnesota Needs Doctors, a coalition of teaching hospitals across the state, which includes the University of Minnesota.

The group projects a national shortage of about 90,000 doctors within the next decade, and Minnesota will be left with about 2,000 physician openings.

“We’re anticipating shortages,” said associate family medicine professor Kathleen Brooks.

But Mark Rosenberg, the Medical School’s vice dean for medical education, said the school is doing everything it can to prepare for the future bottleneck and is actually one of the country’s largest medical schools.

“Both schools are at capacity,” he said of the Duluth and Twin Cities medical school campuses. He said both have reached the limit of annual doctors they can train — which constitutes 70 percent of health professionals in Minnesota.

In 2014, the University’s Twin Cities Medical School received 3,700 applicants to its MD program, of which it accepted 7.3 percent.

Rosenberg said the enrollment rate is unlikely to increase, as there is a fixed number of openings for medical residencies, which he said are a necessary step for the school’s 170 enrolled students.

“To practice medicine, you need to do a residency,” he said. “So [those] spots are relatively consistent.”

One of the residencies is based out of the Hennepin County Medical Center, where a maximum enrollment of five University medical students can train per emergency room rotation, said emergency medicine residency coordinator Margaret Miller.

Brooks said an aging demographic and the Affordable Care Act will create extra demand for the medical field and subsequently for more doctors. She added that some physicians no longer want the 80-hour work week typical for doctors, which could exacerbate demand for physicians.

Rosenberg and Brooks said a disinterest in rural family medicine and primary care is another top contributor to the coming shortage of doctors.

“I think rural areas struggle to recruit physicians to them, mainly in primary care,” Rosenberg said.

Brooks also serves as the director of the University’s Rural Physician Associate Program, which was created to foster third-year medical students’ interests in family medicine and primary care outside of cities and urban areas.

Brooks said because it is more likely for a medical student who grew up or lived in a non-urban area to want to work in one, the program has students from all backgrounds training and living in rural areas.

She said a rising number of physician assistants could change the way the University helps fill the doctor shortage, but she said a more comprehensive solution has yet to emerge.