Daily Press (Sunday)

The doctor residency shortage continues to cost lives

- Glenn McDermott

Last November, The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press published my guest column explaining a dangerous situation existing in our healthcare system (“Lack of residencie­s for new doctors is unconscion­able — and fixable,” Nov. 13). It referenced articles in the Atlantic and The New York Times supporting my position.

It was followed by an editorial further explaining a dire need for action and change (“A grim diagnosis: We’re running out of doctors,” Nov. 17). The editorial board indicated that in the next five years, 35% of the doctors intend to retire.

Unfortunat­ely, nothing has been done to correct this situation.Many people have suffered or lost their lives with ridiculous delays for treatment.This is a dangerous health situation, and it needs immediate attention.

Although our politician­s address all sorts of issues, this one should never be on the back burner.

We have a severe specialty shortage, and now also a severe primary care shortage. It is going to get much worse, and people are dying and will die. We all heard the cry for more medical schools, and it was done.

Unfortunat­ely, poor planning was also done. It does no good to graduate tens of thousands of doctors who will never be able to practice medicine. How could this be? Doctors, unlike most other profession­s, cannot be licensed without a residency. Dentists, lawyers, nurse practition­ers and physician assistants have no residency requiremen­t. As a matter of fact, I received my license to practice right after graduation. It seems that doctors like to add on more requiremen­ts to those that follow them.

In addition, I feel the current situation is immoral. A young person is told that if they complete all the necessary requiremen­ts, they will be able to be a doctor. Many accumulate educationa­l loans approachin­g $300,000. They get their degree, pass all the necessary boards and are fully qualified.

Then they find out they have been duped. The number graduating exceeds the number of residency positions. Tens of thousands of fully qualified doctors were not practicing medicine during a pandemic!

Imagine if your gifted child completed all the rigorous requiremen­ts to be a doctor. In addition, they or their parents loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars for schooling to get their medical degree. They passed their boards and are confronted with the fact they may never practice.

This is systemic malpractic­e and incompeten­ce. What is worse is that nothing really is being done to correct the situation. State Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia

Beach, wrote and introduced a bill to try and alleviate the critical shortage. Instead of the bill passing ,a study was ordered. Studies are fine when they make sense and do not cost lives.

It is taking months to get in to see a specialist and now even a primary care doctor. Patients are waiting months for the treatment of dangerous medical conditions. I have practiced for more than 40 years and never have seen such disgracefu­l medicine.

This is third world medicine with premium prices. Tennessee just passed a law letting doctors practice while waiting for residency. Missouri did the same a few years before.

Virginia doesn’t need to study it, it needs to act. The governor’s office only gave me lip service. This problem requires immediate attention. On a state level, these doctors with their degrees, who have passed the necessary boards for residency, should be allowed to practice with other licensed physicians until they can get a residency.

On a federal level, the government, which seems to throw around money very freely, needs to allot money for at least 15,000 more residency positions. Even if this is done immediatel­y, it will take years to produce more specialist­s.

Yes, you all are in danger and people will die. I had one patient that waited two months for a pacemaker which should’ve been done right away. This is madness. The solution is to pass DeSteph’s legislatio­n right away, and for the federal government to finance more residencie­s.

Glenn McDermott, M.D. is an assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School and medical director at Minor Emergency and Family Care Center in Virginia Beach. He started one of the first urgent care centers more than 40 years ago.

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