Minn. Doctors Search for Cure to Looming Physician Shortage

Updated: 01/13/2014 8:47 PM KSTP.com By: Naomi Pescovitz

Dozens of Minnesota doctors are hoping to cure a problem that will impact all of us: a shortage of physicians. About 80 Minnesota M.D.s met in Minneapolis Tuesday evening to talk about solutions for the coming shortage.

The Minnesota Medical Association hosted the Primary Care Physician Workforce Summit after organizing a special task force to address the issue.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the United States will face a shortage of more than 91,500 physicians by 2020; 45,000 of those doctors are in primary care. Minnesota is expected to be 2,000 doctors short.

Several factors have contributed to the problem, including an expected influx of newly insured patients under the Affordable Care Act and an aging population of doctors.

Dr. Jeremy Springer is the Chair of the Minnesota Medical Association Primary Care Physician Workforce Expansion Advisory Task Force. He is also the Director of the Residency Program at Park Nicollet.

"What can we do for Minnesota? What are the issues in Minnesota, are they the same issues that are nationally?" Springer said.

Several solutions have come to light, including improving incentives for primary care doctors and increasing funding to provide more residency spots.

Springer recommends keeping some retiring doctors on call.

"Maybe, some of us who would normally retire at 65 or whatever, would be willing to work part time for a little while longer. We kind of love what we do. So it's important for us to be able to stay in that," Springer said.

Patients should also be prepared for a changing model of care that relies more on nurse practitioners and physicians assistants.

"I think the model that won't be there in the future as we look at it is that you come to the office, the nurse puts in you in the room and you see the doctor and then you go home. There's going to be a whole lot more people that are taking care of you to allow the physician to see more patients," Springer said.

Though the shortage is a national and statewide problem, it will be felt most in rural areas. Doctors there have had a harder time recruiting co-workers and replacements when they retire.

Dr. Kathleen Books is the Director of the University of Minnesota Medical School Rural Physician Associate Program. The 9-month program helps students train in and embrace rural communities. Two thirds of their students end up staying in Minnesota and in rural areas.

"It's a program that has fortunately built upon itself so that a number of the alums now invite the students into their practices. So as students become engaged in those rural practices they see the richness of that place, and then they can think about whether this is right for them," Brooks said.