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Fiscal Fix Needed for Physician Training

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, December 13, 2012

The deans of medical schools who gathered recently at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington D.C. talked with some urgency about physician needs in their areas.

"One said, 'We can't hire enough orthopedic surgeons.' Another who lives across the country said, 'We can't hire enough gastroenterologists,''' said Christiane Mitchell, director of federal affairs for the AAMC, recalling the conversations for me.

"There's no single specialty shortage or single region that has the biggest shortage," she says. "If you look at the physician supply in Boston, there are plenty of physicians. If you go to western Massachusetts, where I used to live, there are no physicians," in a manner of speaking, she adds. "You have to go to Albany, NY or to Vermont for healthcare or back to Boston. It's hard to say what the big need is; it varies from region to region."

The potential impact of looming physician shortages on the patient population may seem like old news, but there's a new "physician training fiscal cliff" looming due to the country's budget woes.  Maybe we should call it "the frozen fiscal cliff."

Indeed, some physician training programs haven't had additional funds since 1997, Mitchell says, and AAMC is desperately pushing for a change.

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