There are over 400M primary care visits each year in rural, urban, and suburban communities across the country. It is the only field of medicine where greater investment is associated with better and more equitable outcomes and decreased cost. In fact, an increased number of primary care physicians is associated with longer lives.1 Conversely, the United States is seeing a decreased number of primary care physicians – especially in areas of need such as rural communities. These projected workforce shortages are certain to have negative impacts on health outcomes and exacerbate existing health disparities.
A shrinking workforce by the numbers
There are an estimated 89 million people in the United States living in health professional shortage areas (HPSAs).2 It would take an additional 15,500 primary care physicians to eliminate HPSAs, but unfortunately there is a projected shortage of 17,800 to 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034.3 Today, approximately 25% of the workforce is over the age of 60. Additionally, fewer medical graduates are selecting primary care as a specialty and others are leaving the field.4 Taken together, these alarming numbers show America is in the middle of a primary care workforce crisis.
Primary care access is vital for all communities
Primary care provides important services such as preventive care and diagnosing and managing acute and chronic disease. In addition, primary care’s whole-person approach takes into account important factors beyond a patient’s physical health such as mental, emotional, and social needs within their communities. Investing in integrated primary care and embedding a robust primary care workforce across the country will ensure that a person’s outcome and quality of care are not determined by zip code.
What can be done?
There are ways that the primary care workforce can be expanded and diversified:
- Create broader training opportunities in areas that reflect our diverse needs and invest in the development of culturally competent curricula
- Close the income gap between primary care and other specialties through value-based payment models
- Incentivize careers in primary care including grants, loan forgiveness, and financial assistance