- An across-the-board shortage of primary care physicians may be to blame for the ongoing Veterans Affairs scandal that culminated in department secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation on Friday.
- The department faces high physician turnover, with its primary care staff growing by only 9% in the last three years. Last year, they employed 5,100 primary care physicians, and the department says it is trying to fill 400 vacancies.
- Meanwhile, its patient population is expanding as younger Iraq and Afghanistan veterans join aging ones who served in Vietnam and Korea. Primary-care appointments have jumped up 50% in three years.
The VA's staffing woes highlight two industry-wide trends: Firstly, that as patient populations grow (in the civilian sphere, expanding coverage is expected to increase utilization), so will the demand for primary care physicians. And the jury is still out on whether there are enough to treat that population, especially in rural areas.
Secondly, a hospital that overworks its physicians is unlikely to retain them. The Times cites Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, a primary care doctor who took a VA post in Jackson, Miss. in 2008. She found "13-hour workdays fueled by large patient loads that kept growing as colleagues quit and were not replaced." Dr. Hollenbeck filed a complaint and handed in her notice. As competition for primary care doctors increases, hospitals will have to be competitive in their hiring practices in order to attract and retain physicians.