A Looming Healthcare Crisis in America: Not enough doctors!

I just returned from New York City where I had the privilege of delivering the commencement keynote to the 2006 graduating class of the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. While there, the college honored me with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree. I guess that means from now on, you'll have to call me doctor, doctor or perhaps just D² :)

College officials told me this year's graduating class was the smallest ever. Just 58 newly minted podiatrists will join the ranks this year, down from as many as 100 in past years. The outlook is slightly better for the next few years now that jobs in high-tech or investment banking have lost some of their luster. None-the-less, officials say it is getting harder and harder to attract the best and brightest into medicine.

That point was driven home when I came across a recent article in the Boston Globe predicting a dire shortage of medical professionals at the very time we'll need them most. The article states that one-third of America's post-residency trained physician work force is older than 55 and likely to retire about the time baby boomers really start hitting our healthcare system. That is a very scary thought. Hospitals are already seeing severe shortages in certain medical specialties like general surgery, pediatric surgery, and interventional radiology. And patients are well aware of how hard it is in many communities to find a primary care doctor to care for them.

Young people have been turning away from careers in medicine, and who could blame them? Although physicians still make a good living, its no gravy train. The education is long, arduous and expensive. Factor in the cost of training, lost wages, long hours, high stress, and the ever-present threat of lawsuits and its no wonder other professions look more appealing. Did my own kid choose a career in medicine? Nope. She works for Google .

We can fret about the need for electronic medical records and better information technology in healthcare, but what if there's no one to use it once we get it? Or perhaps, because doctors will have better tools to do their work and more time to focus on patients instead of paperwork, medicine will become more appealing once again as a career choice. I certainly hope so, because I'm one of those aging boomers about to hit the system.

What do you think? Let us know.

Bill Crounse, MD Healthcare Industry Director Microsoft Healthcare and Life Sciences