American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

The Physician Shortage


Health care reform offers the promise of primary care to millions of uninsured Americans. The problem? There's already a critical shortage of primary care physicians. Host Dr. Rick Greene talks with a pair of public health experts about the shortage, and with a general surgeon facing burn-out in rural North Carolina.

Listen to this episode.

Segment 1: Physician Shortage, Part 1

Guest: Dr. Tom Ricketts, Professor of Health Policy and Management at UNC Chapel Hill and the Deputy Director of UNC’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research

The year 2025 isn’t so far away. And if the Association of American Medical Colleges is correct, we’ll be facing a shortage of at least 124 thousand physicians in 15 short years. Docs who provide the most basic medical needs – primary care physicians and general surgeons – are already in the shortest supply.

Two big factors are contributing to the shortage: there simply aren’t enough doctors in the pipeline to meet the needs of a growing population, and doctors in training are overwhelmingly choosing specialties and subspecialties over those areas of medicine that are in the greatest demand – primary care and general surgery. Unfortunately, it’s no easy fix. And with the country getting bigger, older, and more obese - and the pool of doctors getting smaller - it’s a crisis in the making.

Segment 2: Physician Shortage, Part 2

Guest: Dr. Harold Sox, Professor emeritus of medicine at The Dartmouth Institute in Hanover, NH, and the former editor of The Annals of Internal Medicine

The number of American medical students choosing primary care is half what it was in 1997 and as many as 50 percent of primary care providers have stopped taking new patients. If we’re facing a shortage of the doctors we see most, what’s being done about it?

Segment 3: The Rural Surgeon

Guest: Dr. Henry Fleishmann, Surgeon

To get a sense of the pressures that are driving doctors-in-training out of primary care and general surgery and into higher-paying specialties and subspecialties, look no further than the rural surgeon. And look while you can, because it's showing signs of disappearing altogether. Three hundred U.S. counties lost all their surgeons in the last five years, and 900 counties have no surgeons whatsoever.

Eden, NC, has a population of 15,000. It’s located in Rockingham County in central North Carolina, about 30 miles south of the Virginia border. Dr. Henry Fleishmann is one of two practicing surgeons in Eden. He’s lived and worked in the city for 31 years.