Wiregrass Experiences Doctor Shortage

Reporter: Rhiana Huckins

The number of physicians is decreasing in the Wiregrass, as well as across the country.

Nationwide, an average of 75% of emergency rooms are short-staffed in terms of specialty coverage.

Things aren’t looking too bad right now, but local healthcare professionals are actively exploring ways to prevent a major healthcare shortage.

The U.S. population continues to grow, and with an aging population, 75 million baby boomers are at an age where more care is needed.

Hospital officials are seeing a decline in the number of doctors. And, with 10 to 15 years worth of training, it is not a job shortage that can be fixed overnight.

Dr. Jeff Plagenhoef, a staff anesthesiologist at SAMC, said, “If we changed, started taking in 40% more medical students today, we would be seeing an effect from that more than 10 years from now. So, it’s not something that you can change quickly. It’s important to realize that stakes are high, and estimates are crucial.”

Some contributing factors include physician aging, fewer applicants to med school, and changes of practice. Younger doctors are working less.

Particularly, there are shortages of neurologists in the Wiregrass.

Emergency Medical Physician Dr. Mark McDonald, at Flowers Hospital said, “There are neurologists in the Dothan area, but right now, we don’t have any neurology coverage at Flowers Hospital. So, we’re certainly willing to talk to any neurologists that want to work here at Flowers Hospital.”

The Southeast Alabama Medical Center currently has three neurologists, but two of them may not be practicing much longer.

The Dothan area has a variety of specialty physicians, but occasionally, a patient will get transported to Montgomery or Birmingham.

Plagenhoef adds, “The shortage of doctors was only recently estimated. About 10 years ago, they actually estimated that we had an over supply of doctors that turned out to be arrant.”

For now, both area hospitals are doing their best to keep their facilities fully staffed.

Generally, hospitals are short 10% of their staff. If this rises to 20% by the year 20/20, there could be a national shortage of 85,000 doctors.

For high school students who are interested in a first-hand look at a medical career, the medical center has a teenage volunteer program.
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