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Palliative Care Challenged by Physician Shortage

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, July 13, 2012
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This article appears in the July 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

In the past decade, medical schools have significantly increased their emphasis on palliative care education, but there is a shortage of palliative care physicians.

While there is about one cardiologist for every 71 people experiencing a heart attack and one oncologist for every 141 newly diagnosed cancer patients, there is only one palliative care physician for every 1,200 people living with a serious or life-threatening illness, according to the Center to Advance Palliative Care.

According to the December 2010 study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, the current shortage of palliative and hospital medicine physicians numbers anywhere between 6,000 and 18,000 physicians.

"We need more trained people in palliative care, particularly at the physician end of the spectrum," says Timothy E. Quill, MD, director of the center of ethics, humanities, and palliative care at the Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center. "We don’t have enough people to go to places where there is a need. We have been working hard nationally to find funding to train people. It’s an uphill battle.