Many healthcare facilities in the United States are having a hard time staffing their emergency departments with qualified emergency medicine physicians. The trouble is, there are plenty of great emergency medicine (EM) physicians looking for work. But job opportunities are often outside of their preferred geographic region or below their desired salary, resulting in a lack of EM doctors at many hospitals - especially in rural areas where some emergency departments have been forced to close altogether.
A lack of available physicians makes it difficult for hospitals to provide the best quality care for their patients. So, what can healthcare organizations do to address the emergency medicine physician shortage?
Before we explore the solutions to emergency physician shortages in the US, we need to examine some of the factors that have contributed to physician shortages in the first place.
One of the biggest factors contributing to the EM physician shortage is burnout due to an unhealthy work environment in the emergency physician workforce. Many hospitals and clinics in private healthcare systems are overloaded with patients and understaffed with doctors and nurses, which can lead to unmanageable workloads as physicians try to provide care for more patients than they can reasonably accommodate.
It's becoming difficult to attract and retain a qualified rural emergency medicine workforce. A lack of other professional opportunities in the vicinity of rural hospitals is causing many young doctors to look to big cities and urban centers for their careers rather than urgent care centers in small towns and remote clinics.
Increases in rates of chronic illness and the overall age of the US population are driving an increase in patient care demand. People are living longer and require a higher degree of care as they enter their golden years. Similarly, many Americans are living with chronic illnesses that need ongoing treatment.
The number of physicians qualified to practice emergency medicine is related in large part to medical school enrollment caps and the availability of EM residency training programs for new doctors. Medical schools have infamously low acceptance rates, and with fewer applicants accepted into academic medical centers, there are fewer doctors entering the emergency medicine workforce. Accordingly, many potential physicians avoid medical school because of student debt and the high cost of completing med school coursework.
While the shortage of emergency physicians is expected to persist in the near future, some experts believe we could experience an emergency physician surplus by 2030. Recognizing the looming physician shortage crisis, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) created a task force to examine the problem. The results of their two-year study predict an emergency physician surplus of 7,845 in 2030 based on a 3% annual attrition rate.
In terms of employment trends, the states with the highest employment levels for emergency medicine include New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Michigan. States with the fewest job opportunities for emergency medicine specialists include Montana, Alaska, and Arkansas.
However, rural areas are still expected to suffer from a lack of qualified emergency physicians, despite a predicted emergency physician surplus. The number of physicians entering rural healthcare systems has still not offset the number of physicians leaving or retiring, suggesting that emergency physician shortages will persist unless a significant intervention takes place.
The impact of the emergency physician shortage is clear.
Not only will qualified doctors have a more difficult time finding good jobs as part of the emergency medicine workforce, but patient care will also be impacted. Lower quality care is a primary consequence of a doctor shortage. Patients often have less face-to-face time with their doctors and can have a harder time finding the right specialists. Long wait times and trouble making appointments can frustrate patients and cause them to avoid seeking care.
Thankfully, there are several solutions available to combat the shortage in the emergency medicine workforce.
One of the biggest problems facing today's emergency medicine workforce is the prevalence of profit-driven corporations influencing patient care and physician contracts in private healthcare systems. Healthcare reform will be necessary to relieve physician burden, improve the continuity of patient care, and eliminate unhealthy work environments.
Introducing telehealth options for patients and physicians can help to compensate for rural emergency medicine workforce shortages and provide patients in remote areas with the diagnoses they need. By implementing new telehealth technologies, geographic boundaries will become irrelevant, and doctors can provide rural emergency care more easily.
To obtain a physician's license, doctors must graduate from a school accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) but these schools often have few spots available and charge steep tuition. Some experts now argue that traditional process-driven assessments should be substituted by competency-based assessments in order to expand the pool of potential doctors.
International graduates already constitute about a quarter of the US physician workforce and provide excellent care. But the licensure process for international doctors is long and complicated, which can frustrate many great emergency medicine specialists and prevent them from working in the US. To combat the national physician shortage, the licensure process should be streamlined and simplified.
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can help to relieve the burden of care placed on doctors. While NPs have a more limited scope of expertise than trained physicians, they can still satisfy most fundamental patient care demands and can make a great supplement to an overburdened emergency physician workforce.
As the job outlook for emergency medicine remains in flux, it can be difficult to pin down a satisfying permanent position. But there are other options available. There are plenty of opportunities for emergency medicine physicians in locum tenens positions. Locum positions typically offer more competitive pay, better work-life balance, flexible schedules, and the ability to travel the country.
There are many benefits for emergency medicine physicians working in locum tenens positions, but it can feel overwhelming to continually negotiate new contracts, search for your next opportunity, and find insurance on your own.
That is where a dedicated locum tenens agency like Caliber can help.
Our experts are always there to assist with professional development, job alerts, contract negotiation, a custom career plan, and anything else you may need to make your locum tenens opportunity a success.
We can help you with the logistics of your locum tenens work including travel, housing, and insurance. Our dedicated team focuses on connecting you with the most relevant jobs and is always there to advocate for you.
Caliber connects qualified healthcare professionals with the facilities that need them most. We use a specialty-focused recruitment approach to connect the right providers with the right hospitals and clinics. Whether it's a few extra shifts or full-time locums jobs, we provide a comprehensive range of assignments for our clients.