A Brief Look at How the Shortage of Medical Specialists Is Impacting Healthcare

Photo Courtesy: Tony Abrego

Much has been said about an aging population and the increased need for geriatric specialists. Unfortunately, although true, this is obscuring the fact that there is a shortage of medical professionals across the board. From neonatal physicians and nurses to those in mental health, surgery, and any other specialty, there is a shortage of specialists that far exceeds the total deficit in licensed medical professionals. What does this critical lack of doctors, nurses, and support staff mean? Let’s take a brief look at that from both sides of the coin. What does this shortage mean to medical professionals and how is it impacting patient care?

Patient Care Is Suffering
There is no doubt that a critical shortage of doctors and nurses is affecting not only the level of patient care but if there is any care available at all! The long and the short of it is that there just aren’t enough doctors to go around. Part of that is due to the high cost of medical school. In fact, a huge part of the problem directly related to cost is the availability of medical school in the U.S. This may be something which needs to be addressed. If cost is preventing potential students from entering med school, then maybe more scholarships and other forms of financial aid should be made available. Some patients are reporting that they are waiting weeks, if not months to get into a specialist and families of patients who succumbed to illnesses while waiting are beginning to speak out.

How Doctors and Nurses Are Coping
If consumers think that patients are the only ones suffering from this shortage, it’s time to look at what doctors and nurses are experiencing. For example, there is a shortage of neonatal doctors and often this results in one hospital with a NICU department servicing several counties in their area. Doctors are overworked and often frustrated that they can’t be available to the sheer number of neonates relying on them. One solution many hospitals have found is to subsidize education costs for RNs seeking an advanced practice degree. Some nurses are taking online courses at universities like Baylor to get that DNP with a specialty in neonatal medicine. A neonatal nursing program can bring experienced neonatal RNs to a level of education that enables them to function much like a physician as a medical specialist. How are doctors coping? Sometimes they aren’t! This is why so many nurses are working to fill the void with an advanced practice degree!

Yes, you can make a higher income as an NP with a specialization in neonatal medicine, but you will also be giving new parents a ray of hope. With a neonatal nurse practitioner on staff, patients are assured that someone with the right level of experience and expertise is on the job. Money for a neonatal unit is something else altogether, but it is important to have at least one neonatal specialist on staff to make those often difficult calls.

If you are a nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, perhaps it’s time to take the online fast track to become an NP. Maybe we can fill that void one specialist at a time.