A surge of doctors are retiring in the next ten years. This statistic would not be so alarming if there were new doctors to replace them, yet the current education system does not provide an adequate number of replacements. This has officially become an alarming doctor shortage, but at least for general practitioners, there may be a solution…
Doctor shortage, an endless depletion…
According to Ansa reports, 45,000 practicing doctors will retire in Italy in the next 5 years. These not only include general practitioners, but national health physicians as well. This “depletion” is expected to increase exponentially in the next decade. In 2028, for example, 33,392 general practitioners and 47,284 hospital doctors will have retired, amounting to 80,676 retired doctors.
The real problem: a lack of replacements
The real problem is not the wave of retirements. The real problem is that the number of estimated retirements is higher than the number of new doctors being hired.
For general practitioners, for example, there are about 1,100 grants available each year for general medicine courses. If this number goes unchanged, no more than 11,000 doctors will be replaced in 2028 when 34,000 will be needed.
It is more difficult to make a prediction for national health physicians. Carlo Palermo, vice secretary of ANAAO, explains, “On one hand, we don’t know when each region will hold national exams or how many people will be admitted. On the other, we must not forget that several regions are still constrained by various restrictions affecting turnover”. Moreover, Palermo highlights that “the current system for medicine graduate programs does not guarantee a sufficient number of specialists in the near future”. Notably, hospitals are expected to see a shortage of pediatricians, surgeons, gynecologists and cardiologists.
Who will be the general practitioner?
The doctor shortage will particularly affect the key role of the general practitioner. In the next 5-8 years, 14 million Italians will find themselves without a general practitioner, according to Silvestro Scotti, secretary of Fimmg. In the next 10 years, 70% of general practitioners will retire.
Ansa predicts that 2022 will be an ‘annus horribilis’, the year with a surge of retiring general practitioners. In 2022 alone, 3,902 general practitioners will retire. Sicily, Lombardy, Campania and Lazio are the regions that will lose the most doctors both in the short-term and the long-term.
Why the shortage of general practitioners?
The underlying problem is not the limited number of grants available for training courses. At one point all medical students must decide to either take a national exam to specialize or become a general practitioner and obtain a certificate. “A general practitioner working as an intern earns EUR 800.00 per month while a resident earns EUR 1,800.00”, explains Ovidio Brignoli, vice president of the Italian Society of General Medicine and Primary Care (SIMG). “Furthermore, most people don’t attribute much prestige to the general practitioner and, thus, it is a less appealing job”. This is a paradox considering the fundamental role of the general practitioner and his or her profound knowledge of their patients, which allows for a more holistic approach to medicine- that Domedica values greatly- that considers all aspects of the patient.
One possible solution: provide assistance for general practitioners
What can be done? “Change restrictions on the number of students allowed into the Universities. Quotas should be re-defined based on [the country’s] needs. Secondly, internship salaries should be the same. We can’t have A-team and B-team doctors”, states Ovidio Brignoli. This alternative, however, cannot be attained in the short-term.
Simq offers an interesting and quicker alternative that stems from a surprising finding: 55% of general practitioners work alone and 40% of their time is spent on bureaucratic issues. Thus, another solution would be to provide an assistant (a nurse or secretary) for general practitioners. This would allow doctors to visit more patients and would be more cost-effective for the government since the salary of a nurse or a secretary is less than a general practitioner.
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