A doctor at the University of Iowa says Americans with heart disease or lung cancer could soon face problems in accessing the care they need. Dr. Mark Iannettoni is Chair of the U of I Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery. He says fewer doctors are entering the cardiothoracic residency programs, while a majority of today’s current surgeons are preparing to retire.
"It’s really concerning," Iannettoni says, "because if you think about the baby boomers, we’re going to be hitting a population that are coming into their peak years of needing cardiac surgery and according to the estimates we have, by 2020, we’re going to be short about 4,000 to 5,000 cardiac surgeons in this country." Iannettoni says there are several reasons why potential doctors are not entering the field of cardiac surgery.
He says many doctors are entering their careers with significant debt, and it’s difficult to get them to move to a job where they might not make as much money as they could elsewhere. Iannettoni also credits decreasing medicare reimbursement rates and the fact that cardiac surgery is both time consuming and technically demanding. He says the shortage of cardiac surgeons is of particular concern for small to medium sized communities.
"For example, Mason City has a single cardiac surgeon who’s extremely busy," Iannettoni says, "but they’re going to have a very difficult time attracting another cardiac surgeon to live in the area." The Society of Thoracic Surgeons is seeking help from the federal government, hoping to attract more applicants to the specialty’s training programs.
The STS is calling for an overhaul of the Medicare physician reimbursement system and loan forgiveness for medical students entering specialities with long training periods. Iannettoni says it takes 12 years, including medical school and residency, to train a cardiothoracic surgeon.