COVID pandemic made the shortage of doctors worse

The COVID-19 pandemic took a doctor shortage and made it worse. That's the finding of a report, out this month, from the Association of American Medical Colleges. They estimate we could be short as many as 124,000 physicians by 2034.

At Gardner Health Services in San Jose, staffing is a problem. They simply need more doctors for their community clinics.

But while hiring physicians was difficult before COVID, it's practically impossible now.

"We're hoping to hire more clinicians. We need more clinicians. But it's definitely a challenge," says Dr. Ranjani Chandramouli, Medical Director at the Gardner Family Health Network.

The issue is a nationwide doctor shortage, according to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Population growth was already outpacing the number of newly minted doctors.

But add in the pandemic, and they say all of a sudden more physicians were burned out, or pushed into early retirement.

"We've been looking at this shortage. We've been trying to increase the number of medical school slots," says Dr. Janis Orlowski, Chief Healthcare Officer with the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Nationally, an extra thousand residency slots were added last year.

Still hospitals like Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, say the shortfalls extend to all specialties: from infectious disease experts, to urologists.

Plus the Bay Area's high cost of living doesn't help with recruitment.

So they're doing the best they can to fill the gaps, use telehealth when possible, and keep their current staff happy.

"We are really focusing on strategies to try to recruit and retain primary care physicians. Because I can tell you every day we hear about individuals that are having difficulty even finding a physician," says Dr. Dieter Bruno, Chief Medical Officer at Sequoia Hospital.

That's especially true, as patients who put off care during the pandemic are now flooding the system.

"People who weren't able to get in before, want to get in or need to get in and consequently it's backing up the whole system in every conceivable specialty," says Dr. Alan Brast, of Comprehensive Wellness in Walnut Creek.

At Gardner Health, they say there's been stiff competition for every doctor they've interviewed.

"Their salary expectations were pretty high, bonuses were high. It was routine to expect a sign on bonus for everybody," says Dr. Chandramouli.

And so they've been thinking outside the box, looking at international candidates, and even those fresh out of school.

"I must say I was very fortunate. I was able to hire two nurse practitioners," says Dr. Chandramouli. She was also recently able to find a new pediatrician.

The Association of American Medical Colleges is hopeful there could be federal money coming for medical training, which could help.