AMA predicts glut of doctors in a few years

November 10, 1994|By Medical Tribune News Service

SEATTLE -- Future doctors may find themselves standing in the unemployment line instead of at the bedside, if some projections of doctor supply and demand turn out to be true, according to an American Medical Association official who spoke here this week.

By 2000, the United States will have 163,000 more doctors than it needs, possibly even too many primary-care physicians, said Dr. M. Roy Schwarz, group vice president of medical education and sciences for the AMA.

In addition to a large number of students entering medical school and the many residents being trained at teaching hospitals, nurses and physician's assistants are taking on a greater role in delivering basic care, Dr. Schwarz said. This means that even fewer doctors will be needed.

"If students know this data and still want to go into medicine, they may not be as smart as we think they are," Dr. Schwarz said at news briefing sponsored by the AMA. But he acknowledged that the trends are so new that many young people have not had time to adjust. To further confuse the issue, experts who track physician supply and demand often disagree about the future.

"This is a moving target," explained Jerald Katzoff, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Health Professions, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

In contrast to Dr. Schwarz's predictions, data recently released by the Council on Graduate Medical Education, a committee established by Congress, show that there will be a surplus of 115,000 specialists, and a shortage of 35,000 primary-care doctors, by 2000.

Despite the quibbling over numbers, most experts agree that job prospects are most promising for doctors who choose to go into primary care, such as family physicians, internists and pediatricians.

"A larger number of medical students must become committed to generalist careers," said Dr. David Altman, associate vice president for education policy at the Association of American Medical Colleges.

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