Health Care Could be Impacted by Expected MN Doctor Shortage

Updated: 03/08/2013 7:27 AM By: Beth McDonough

Doctors are getting older in Minnesota.

In the next 10 years one in three will retire, and there aren't enough future physicians to replace them. That could threaten your access to health care.

It's supply versus demand. 

The Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange will give access to health care to an estimated 300,000 currently un-insured Minnesotans, meaning more patients, more overtime, and fewer doctors to treat them.

The potential doctor shortage affects Jessica Gaston in two ways. One is obvious: she works at a hospital in Minneapolis. The other is less apparent but just as important: she has also been a patient. "We get ill; we need someone to treat us, keep us healthy, keep us going," Gaston says.

Judy Rice is counting on that for her sister, who is sick. "We all need health care at one point or another," she said. She believes patients in every community could suffer if there's not easy access to a doctor.

Right now there are 12,779 practicing physicians in Minnesota. The Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C., expects an alarming 30 percent of them will retire over the next 10 years.

"Health care is more available to people, but there's no one here to treat us or will be here to treat us; that's frightening," Gaston says.

Dr. John Andrews heads up the University of Minnesota's Graduate Medical School. "We need to increase our capacity to train more doctors," he said. "We need to increase our capacity to train physicians, and that requires more resources go to our education programs in order to do that."

In 2011, Minnesota cut funding in half for training future doctors, and it was a major hit to teaching hospitals. But in his 2014 budget, Governor Dayton proposes restoring those funds: $49.5 million dollars. 

That's a start, according to Dr. Andrews, who says doctor training is directly related to how much funding schools get. "It'd be a shame to create access and then have no one to provide the care," he said.

He goes on to say 60 percent of doctors who train in Minnesota stay in Minnesota. 

The state's medical association is putting together a task force to come up with recruitment and retention strategies.

The Minnesota Medical Association says it cost $153,000 per doctor trainee in 2012.