By JUDY GAMAN
Among those in the field, it’s been referred to as the Covid Tour of Duty. Doctors, nurses, and support staff working around the clock on high alert, in many cases seeing the worst effects of our world-wide battle against the pandemic. Even those non-hospital workers, especially those in primary care, are being pushed to their limits with no definitive end in sight.
Long before the pandemic, the alarm bells were sounded due to an aging population, which by nature requires more healthcare. That population was being met with shortage of physicians and nurses. Couple that with the pandemic—which has claimed the lives of many healthcare workers, and burned out those that remain—and the shortage becomes the next industry crisis.
Patients with post-Covid sequelae will need ongoing care and may require more visits to their primary care for years to come. Without an adequate push for educating more doctors and nurses, the American population will be met with a continued shortage, now of massive proportion. Opening borders during a pandemic is equivalent to pouring gasoline on the fire, as the country is currently short pressed to take care of their own.
A survey from Mental Health America ( https://mhanational.org/ ) that surveyed healthcare workers from June through September 2020 showed that more than 75% were frustrated, exhausted or overwhelmed. In addition, 93% were experiencing symptoms related to stress. Those same workers are still going full-speed-ahead five months later.
The American Medical Colleges published data showing that of the 900,000 medical school applications from 53,000 applicants in 2019-2020, only 22,000 went on to be accepted. The pandemic of 2020 has not caused applicants to shy away, quite to the contrary. The Association of American Medical Colleges shows that applications are actually up by 25% at over twenty-four medical schools. Therefore, the issue does not seem to be in the desire of the population, but rather in the supply and demand upset within American medical schools. Even if some students who apply are not suited for medical school, they could be re-routed to nursing and other medical professions. This is a task that should be front and center in our policy making.
With all the political talk and policy making circling around the access to healthcare, perhaps the focus is misguided. If America could campaign for more medical and healthcare education, bringing the supply to meet the demand, the country would be better equipped to meet the already stretched demands of the industry. When this Tour of Duty draws to a close, those that carried the country through the battle, will be ready to pass the torch. It’s our duty to make sure that someone else is there to receive it.
Judy Gaman is the CEO of Executive Medicine of Texas, public speaker and an award-winning author.