As a result of burnout from the global COVID-19 pandemic, among other factors such as retirement, lack of funding, lack of interest, and more, there has been a massive shortage of healthcare workers in the United States, specifically those diabetes doctors such as primary care physicians and endocrinologists.
There is a dire need for more diabetes doctors throughout the country:
- Physicians and specialists alike have seen shocking stress levels caused by systemic changes in how they care for patients during the pandemic, increasing their already-high burnout levels.
- Patients have thus been forced to wait longer for appointments with the specialists they need to see.
- In addition, programs and schools supporting those diabetes doctors entering the field see the numbers steadily decreasing.
Below we will take a look at the diabetes healthcare providers that are declining rapidly:
Before the pandemic, physicians were at twice the risk for burnout compared to citizens with other jobs. About 40% of physicians reported feelings of depression, according to a study by the National Academy of Medicine.
Since the pandemic’s start, primary care physicians’ mental and physical health has deteriorated further, with 60% to 75% of clinicians reporting symptoms of exhaustion, depression, sleep disorders, and PTSD.
As the healthcare system mobilized on the front line to combat the national emergency, the physician workforce felt shortages even more intensely, causing pressure and stress to rise.
An AAMC study projects a shortfall of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033. After accounting for the pandemic stressors, additional factors for this are older patients and retiring doctors.
Overall, diabetes patients are experiencing a gap in care with fewer primary care physicians available to care for them. Thus, there are fewer opportunities for diagnosing diabetes and caring for already-diagnosed patients.
According to sources at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinology, there has been a shortage of endocrinologists for over twenty years, proving that the pandemic is not the sole cause for the national lack of specialists.
Instead, several other factors are the main cause of this shortage, including but not limited to the inclusion of a flat rate on the endocrinologists being trained and a rate of about 8% of the total number of endocrinologists retiring each year. In addition, three is a yearly rise in the incidence of endocrine disorders among US patients.
Though the pandemic may have been the sole cause for the decrease in endocrinologists across the country, it did help to exacerbate the situation, with fewer endocrinologists available for hire on the market.
Along with the increased number of obese patients in the US, the need for endocrinologists has never been more crucial. In the last decade alone, more than half of American adults gained 5% or more body weight over ten years, and more than a third of American adults gained 10% or more body weight. Thus, an increased number of diabetes patients also calls for more endocrinologists to provide care.
Ophthalmologists and Podiatrists
Ophthalmologists, who help to treat diabetes patients by way of eye care, are also facing shortages shortly.
There are currently about 18,500 practicing ophthalmologists in the US. However, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts a shortage of ophthalmology providers in the next three years. The prevalence of diabetic retinopathy is high in the elderly, and there is an expected increase in the 65+ population until 2032. However, despite this need for more ophthalmologists, nothing is currently being done to address the shortage.
In addition to ophthalmologists, podiatrists are also facing one of the steepest labor shortages of any physician specialty in 2022 due to the relatively small number of projected new entrants into the field. There are 10,700 practicing podiatrists in the US as of 10 years ago. Still, because of the decrease of interest in the practice among upcoming healthcare professionals, this number is expected to decrease.
Overall, the shortage among those healthcare professionals who care for diabetes patients is concerning. With more than 130 million adults living with diabetes or prediabetes in the United States in 2022, the need for diabetes doctors has never been higher. The US healthcare system must address these shortages and find solutions to better aid this population so that they might provide diabetes patients with the care they need. Eventually, with the proper amount of care providers in the US, the diabetes population may wain.