Laura Colbert, executive director of the advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, said the mass health insurance loss “spotlights a real weakness in our health system.” “On the other…
Guest Blog by Michelle Putnam, HealthSTAT
If you think you’d like to get a physical or a check-up in 2014, you better make your appointment now. That’s what some would have you believe about the shortage of doctors come 2014, when health coverage will be expanded to about 33 million more people. The truth is, Georgia has long experienced a workforce shortage, ranking behind most states in the ratio of patients to physicians, nurses, and physicians assistants. The problem is three-pronged: we do not have enough health professionals choosing to practice primary care, we do not have an adequate collaborative care system, and our health professional students do not receive enough interdisciplinary education.
In Georgia, we have an aging workforce, meaning many of our nurses, physicians, and primary care practitioners are getting older – and so are their patients. By 2030, our population aged 65 and older will have doubled. Couple that with the increase of over 600,000 newly insured in Georgia under the Affordable Care Act, and we’ve got quite a workload in front of us.
A recent New England Journal of Medicine article ranked Georgia as the second-highest state facing capacity problems within primary care. Nationally there are, on average, 631 people per primary care physician. In some pockets of Georgia, however, there are as high as 5,000 people per primary care physician. By 2015, we will have a nursing shortage of over 35,000. One way to deal with these across-the-board shortages is to educate students on the need for primary care and interdisciplinary collaboration, pursuing a team approach to caring for patients.
Although some institutions value interdisciplinary learning, much of a student’s medical, nursing, or public health education keeps them within their practice area, leaving very little time for team-based education. HealthSTAT attempts to change these attitudes by working across institutions and disciplines to establish a collaborative workforce. Students work across disciplines to tackle some of our biggest health care challenges, all with a goal of providing quality, sustainable care.
Over the next year, HealthSTAT students will address issues of an interdisciplinary workforce through service, education, and advocacy. We will partner with health universities and institutions across the state to ensure that students are gaining experience outside the classroom by volunteering in collaborative care settings. Students will educate the public and policy makers on appropriate responses to our workforce shortages through a series of white papers. We will advocate for positions that buttress our primary care settings and increase access to care.
Our goal in engaging students is not only to give them a broader perspective outside of the classroom, but also to retain future health leaders and providers that will practice in our state. As this academic year ends and our students work on completing practicums, rotations, and externships, they take with them a civic ethic and a commitment to providing health care solutions for Georgia.