I have on occasion thought about moving away from Connecticut, where I have lived for 30 years, and returning to my home state, Maryland.
But whenever I start reviewing all the things I love about Maryland, I remember all the things – the people, places and experiences – I would miss if I left my current home.
Near the top of that long list is the set of doctors I have access to here, the ones who cared for me from my young adulthood to my middle age, seen me through the birth of my children, my gallbladder surgery – and my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. And while I feel grateful to all of my physicians, I am most attached to my wonderful neurologist. He handled the process of diagnosing me with calm, empathy and good humor, which might sound strange to some but which has helped me maintain perspective and my own good cheer through the past 12 years. He helped me find the right medication for me and he’s offered good counsel at every checkup.
So I find the news recently reported in the journal Neurology chilling: A study published there on April 17 finds that the U.S. will face a shortage of neurologists by 2025. Specifically, the study, led by Thomas R. Vidic, MD, of the Elkhart Clinic in Elkhart, Ind., projects that the demand for neurologists will grow quite a bit faster than supply: While in 2012 there were about 16,366 neurologists practicing in the U.S., there was demand for about 18,180. By 2025, there’ll be need for 21,440 neurologists, the study projects, but only 18,060 neurologists will be practicing at that time.
That will mean longer wait times to see a neurologist, the authors note, and will make it more difficult for some patients to connect with a neurologist in the first place.
That’s all bad news, given that, as the study points out, 1 in 6 people in the U.S. currently have conditions warranting a neurologist’s care, and that number is expected to grow as baby boomers age and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and MS continue to become more prevalent. A big part of the problem, the study suggests, is that Medicare doesn’t reimburse neurology care at the same rate it pays for other healthcare services, making neurology a less lucrative, and therefore likely less attractive, field for medical school students to pursue.
The National MS Society is concerned about the growing shortage of neurologists, too—especially those who are specifically trained and qualified to care for people with MS. The Society worked with a research firm to conduct a study about why residents and young physicians choose to specialize in MS as a career choice (and why not). They have also held discussions with MS researchers and clinicians to get their ideas about how to attract more talent to the field – and are in the process of developing new strategies and activities to address the problem, including advocacy, providing more MS fellowships and reaching out to medical schools.
Are you in the care of a neurologist? How do you think that care (or lack thereof) may have affected your experience with MS?