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7,000 More Docs Needed in Next Decade

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The number of doctors practicing psychiatry and general surgery is expected to reach critically low levels in the next 10 years, according to a new study from the state’s teaching hospitals.

If Florida continues on its current training and population trajectories, the state will fall nearly 7,000 doctors short in 19 different specialties, said Tim Dall, managing director of IHS Global and author of the Florida Physician Workforce Analysis released Tuesday in Tallahassee.

"Over the foreseeable future, the ability of Florida to provide at least a national average level of care is about 7- to 10- percent below the national average,” he said.

The Teaching Hospital Council of Florida and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance commissioned the study that analyzed health workforce simulation models, the state’s physician workforce, and population socioeconomic and health risk data.

The report broke down the data according to the state’s 11 Medicaid regions, and found shortages will be more acute in less populated regions, particularly the panhandle and southwest Florida. That’s primarily an access issues, as most of the state’s teaching hospitals are in metropolitan areas such as in Miami, Tampa and Orlando.

Specialties such as psychiatry, general surgery and radiology are areas of major concern, said Tim Goldfarb, an executive vice president at UF Health Shands in Gainesville. He said medical schools and policy makers have to address the problem.

"Otherwise we know, that by 2025, we will be short at least 7,000 physicians in our state, many in critical areas including cancer care and in radiology and rheumatology as well as family medicine," he said.

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit Maria Farias / UF Health
The Florida Channel
Tim Goldfarb

Though the numbers cited in the report are large, they fall far short of estimates cited in previous years by teaching hospital officials and legislative leaders looking to boost the state’s health care workforce. The Association of American Medical Colleges has in the past estimated a national doctor shortage of 130,000 by 2025.

In recent months, economists and others have started to challenge those numbers, that in part were spurred by predictions that the Affordable Care Act would create a surge in doctor visits. Goldfarb said until now, few states have pulled all the different data together, or looked at the right information. This report can change that, he said.

“Get everybody on the same page…policy makers, educators, hospitals. Get us on the same page and use this study as, if you will, a rail on the side of the path of substantial guidelines,’’ he said.

Residency programs are key to increasing the number of doctors in Florida, but that requires a significant boost to state and federal budgets. Last year, the state added $80 million to the amount it invests in medical residencies, as part of the state’s Medicaid budget. And Governor Rick Scott has asked to add another $7.5 million to the 2015 budget.

Goldfarb says the report encourages legislators to continue this support of graduate medical education.

“If they choose to prioritize this, they can count on the teaching hospitals of Florida to stand with them,” he said.  

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit IHS Global Inc.
The Florida Channel
Tim Dall

The report findings, however, are not formal recommendations, Dall said.

"The question is, how can we best optimize things so that we have the right number, the right specialty mix of physicians, and that we can attract them and retain them in the state of Florida."  

Mary Shedden is a reporter with WUSF in Tampa. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Mary Shedden is news director at WUSF.