Do We Have Enough Doctors to Stop Coronavirus?

Infectious disease fellowship spots around the country are going unfilled.

Advances in medicine in the 1970s gave the impression that infectious disease (ID) specialists would soon be a thing of the past, but former and current pandemics have proved otherwise. Despite the prevalence of infectious diseases around the world, market dynamics have created a shortage of ID doctors.

A rise in tuberculosis rates, the HIV crisis, Ebola, and now novel coronoavirus gave ample evidence that ID doctors are needed now more than ever. Because poverty and international travel are also factors that influence the spread of these diseases, experts are needed who can navigate complex coordination with other providers and government agencies.

But despite the numerous ID flare-ups over the past several decades, the number of physicians choosing to specialize in ID has declined. According to a study by Dallas-based staffing corporation Merritt Hawkins, between 2009 and 20017 the number of adult ID fellowship programs that filled all their positions dropped by 41 percent, and the total number of applicants decreased by 31 percent. In 2015, fewer than half of all the ID fellowships filled their incoming cohorts in the US. It is one of only four internal medicine specialties where there are more fellowships than applicants, according to the Infectious Disease Society of America.

This is part of a larger trend of physician shortage that looms large over all aspects of the healthcare industry, but the current spread of coronavirus is making that need especially acute.

Part of the shortage is due to salary and market forces. The average starting salary for ID physicians is  $234,285 according to Merritt Hawkins, where as dermatologists can expect to make $420,000, urologists make $464,000, orthopedic surgeons make $536,000, and invasive cardiologists make $648,000 in the first year.


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