COVID-19 pandemic. Dangerous antibiotic resistant bacteria. The current wave of flu and RSV is hitting schools and workplaces.
In recent years, the United States has had many examples of the importance of infectious diseases disease Doctors.
Still, the U.S. faces a shortage of physicians who choose to specialize in infectious diseases, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).
Matching National Recruiting Events Resident Physician According to the group, a specialist training program has been launched recently, but has been somewhat unsuccessful in attracting more doctors to practice infectious disease medicine.
While all or nearly all programs in most other specialties are full, only 56 percent of adult and 49 percent of pediatric infectious disease training programs are full, the association said.
“We have a ton of really good programs that go unfilled, and that’s been a concern for the infectious disease community” for infectious diseases, said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation in Bethesda, Maryland.
It’s the latest bad news in an already troubling trend.
According to projections from the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration, the United States is expected to experience a severe shortage of infectious disease specialists over the next decade.
By 2035, an estimated 14,010 infectious disease physicians across the country will be overwhelmed by the need for 15,130 such specialists, HRSA said.
“This is very worrying for many of us because it is clear that it shows that we will not have enough numbers to control infectious diseases for many years to come,” said IDSA President Dr. Carlos del Rio.
Currently, four of five U.S. counties do not have an infectious disease physician, Del Rio noted.
That’s happening despite the surge in medical school enrollment triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Schaffner said.
The public also recognizes the need for infectious disease physicians.
Some 91 percent of respondents to a poll sponsored by IDSA said it is important to have infectious disease specialists in hospitals to protect patients from infection while undergoing everything from chemotherapy to hip replacement surgery.
Another 65% reported an increase in the number of people focused on management infectious disease Will make America better prepared for the next pandemic.
So why don’t people sign up for this major?
Salary is an important factor, say del Rio and Schaffner.
“When you have a lot of debt in college and medical school, when you graduate with a lot of debt, you don’t go into majors that don’t pay well,” Del Rio said.
Dr. Boghuma Titanji, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University, told NPR that the average salary for an infectious disease specialist is about $260,000, more than most workers make but far less than doctors in other specialties.
Infectious disease doctors may be asked to do other specialized jobs that can earn extra money here and there, Schaffner said, such as overseeing a hospital’s infection control or antibiotic stewardship program.
But he said those jobs, as well as procedures performed under other specialties, were not compensated. These programs are also often unsupported because they require hospital funds to run but are not expected to be profitable, unlike profit-generating services such as surgery.
“So you’re not getting all the resources you need to get the job done, and it’s still not very well paid,” Schaffner said.
Work/life balance also makes infectious disease majors less attractive to potential candidates. Schaffner added that despite their modest pay, infectious disease physicians tend to work longer hours than other specialties in hospitals.
“Residents often see infectious disease physicians as one of the last people to leave the hospital late at night, simply because their consultative needs are so high that there are not enough infectious disease physicians,” Schaffner said.
Compare that to a residency.
“It’s true that residency salaries are much higher than infectious disease physicians,” Schaffner said. “When they’re working, they’re working really hard. But when they’re off, they’re 100 percent off. When they go to follow up with patients and things like that, no one calls them. Infectious disease doctors just spend more time on the job than they do.”
The politicization of the COVID pandemic may also have played a role.
infectious disease specialists and public health official Del Rio noted that these individuals have come under attack from the public, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“People see the polarization and the onslaught of infectious diseases, and I think that makes people say, ‘Well, why am I doing this?'” Del Rio said.
Schaffner agreed, noting that the attacks also had an impact on those already at the scene.
One of his colleagues who serves on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — which helps the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention develop vaccine policy for the U.S. — is reconsidering their participation based on vitriolic emails they have received.
“They may have had the opportunity to continue serving on this committee, but they think twice because they fear for the safety of their families,” Schaffner said.
To attract more people to infectious disease practices, the U.S. will “need to increase the value of identity documents,” Del Rio said. “We need to get better reimbursement for infectious diseases. We need to give students better exposure to the field of infectious diseases.”
IDSA poll shows public support for better financial compensation for infectious disease doctors.
Two-thirds (65%) of participants said the federal government should help pay loans for infectious disease specialists who agree to work in underserved areas of the country.
ISDA is urging Congress to pass the Pandemic Prevention Act, which includes a pilot program that would incentivize healthcare professionals to focus on infectious diseases.
“The discipline is very attractive,” Schaffner said. “A lot of people will be drawn to it. We have to provide the administrative and financial structure so a discipline like cardiology can thrive.”
The Infectious Diseases Society of America has more on career path in that major.
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US faces shortage of infectious disease doctors (December 19, 2022)
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