Group forms to tackle physician, nurse shortages

The goal is to push for a national policy that matches work-force expansion with public needs.

By Myrle Croasdale — Posted Aug. 14, 2006

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The newly formed Council on Physician and Nurse Supply is gearing up to monitor and seek answers to what many say is a growing shortage of physicians and nurses across the United States.

Supported with a $150,000 grant from the physician and nurse recruiting firm AMN Healthcare, the 15-member council will meet twice a year to address physician and nurse supply issues with the goal of guiding national policy on the issue.

Representatives from medical schools, the health policy arena and the private sector, including the American Hospital Assn. and the Medical Group Management Assn., are scheduled to hold their first meeting in October.

The council is part of the Consortium for Health Workforce Research and Policy, a joint program of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine, School of Nursing and the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine professor Richard Cooper, MD, who is co-chairing the council with School of Nursing professor Linda Aiken, PhD, RN, said individual medical schools are expanding, but there isn't a national, coordinated goal for the expansion.

"Everybody is behaving individually from a local perspective," he said, which could mean more doctors, but not in the right specialties or geographic regions.

Evidence of a nursing shortage is widespread, while the need for more physicians is not as clear. A national physician shortfall that estimates put at 65,000 to 200,000 doctors isn't forecast to hit until 2020.

Dr. Cooper said council members plan to analyze the work-force situation, then develop a plan on how to proceed. "We want to enable national policy-makers to make judgments based on information, not supposition or anecdote," he said.

Jonathan Weiner, PhD, professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said the council's membership was "very impressive," but he noted that it was a private organization addressing what a public group should be tackling.

"You have to give them credit for stepping up to the plate," Dr. Weiner said. "But will this be scientific, publicly beneficial? Or will it ultimately promote the business of the funders and some of the key individuals on the council?"

Dr. Cooper said there was no conflict of interest. The recruiting firm's grant was given to the university to administer, the same way pharmaceutical contributions are handled.

Meanwhile, the Council on Graduate Medical Education, the congressional advisory group on physician work-force issues, is planning to meet Sept. 6-7.

Russell Robertson, MD, COGME acting chair and chair of family medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said the group was examining national service options for doctors and flexibility in GME funding to direct training dollars into ambulatory clinics.

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