Southwest Florida dealing with primary care doctor shortage

Published: May 13, 2022 4:24 PM EDT
Updated: May 14, 2022 6:29 AM EDT

Across the nation and in Southwest Florida people are having trouble getting in to see a doctor because of a shortage.

And it’s much deeper than just primary care.

At the same time, a new study found there are more specialists in some fields than there are jobs.

Family doctor Rebekah Bernard has a lot of patients. These days her job requires a lot of patience. There are not enough physicians in her field to go around.

“My phone rings all day long with people that are looking for a new primary care physician,” said Bernard, a primary care doctor at Gulf Coast Primary Direct Care.

The need is so great because primary care is the entry point to healthcare.

“Family physicians specifically are trained to handle about 85% of all medical conditions that a person may face. That means that we should be able to take care of a lot of aspects of your health without having to send you to multiple other physicians,” Bernard said.

A new report from the Association of American Medical Colleges finds the U.S. will be short 124,000 doctors by the year 2034.

Bob Hawkes is educating the next generation of physician assistants at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“I think certainly the baby boomers had an impact we’ve had a lot of, in the past 10-15 years, a lot of physicians retire,” Hawkes said.

Newer physicians may be selecting different specialties, Hawkes said.

The study found oversaturation in fields including emergency medicine, radiation oncology, anesthesiology and plastic surgery,

There are more E.R. doctors than there are jobs.

“Even though we had this pandemic, and all these patients that needed to be admitted to hospitals, and treated in the ER, the number of ER doctors has been cut,” Bernard said.

Locally, getting into certain specialties is almost impossible.

“Finding neurologists, which are brain spinal cord issues, endocrinologist which is diabetes and different hormonal problems and rheumatology, which is a disease of the joints like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. And I have to say that we often struggle to find those specialists for our patients,” Bernard said.

Increased demand means more students are snapping up seats in medical programs.

“We only take 20 students per year, and I will have well over 2,000 applicants every year,” Hawkes said.

Matching the needs of patients is critically important.

To make up some of the shortages in care, health systems are looking at international graduates. About a quarter of doctors in some specialties graduated from schools outside the U.S.