How Much Do We Really Need Doctors?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 5 2012 @ 7:32am

The Economist anticipates the decline of docs:

Workers with a lot less training than doctors can still be highly effective. Physician assistants in America can do about 85% of the work of a general practitioner, according to James Cawley of George Washington University. A pilot programme of rural health-care workers in India—the type that the health ministry wants to expand—found that the workers were perfectly able to diagnose basic ailments and prescribe appropriate drugs. In some areas non-doctors actually look preferable. A review of studies of nurse practitioners in Britain, South Africa, America, Japan, Israel and Australia, published in the British Medical Journal, determined that patients treated by nurses were more satisfied and no less healthy than those treated by doctors.

On the other hand, newly-minted nurses are having a hard time finding jobs:

[M]ore than half of the unemployed nursing school graduates said they couldn’t find a job in the geographic region they preferred. In health reform, there’s a lot of talk about impending doctor and nurse "shortages." But some would argue our problem is less of a shortage and more of a poor distribution of resources: Health-care professionals end up concentrated in metropolitan areas, with few to serve those in rural communities.

That seems to be true for nurses. About 83 percent live in large metropolitan areas, according to the Health Resources and Service Administration. Graduates may encounter more demand looking in more rural areas, such as Nevada, which has 604 nurses for every 100,000 people (one of the country’s lowest rates). The nursing jobs may be available, but not necessarily where they’re desired by recent nursing graduates.