January 1, 2009

Surgeon shortage said acute in rural U.S.

General surgeons in rural America are becoming an endangered species for about one-quarter of the nation's population, medical officials say.

They are described by their fellow doctors as an essential ingredient that keeps full-service medical care within reach for Americans living outside metropolitan areas.

But, their ranks are dwindling, The Washington Post says, caused in large part by educational, medical and sociological forces.

Many young physicians opt for non-surgical specialties, such as radiology or cardiology, while many young surgeons concentrate in fields such as transplant or plastic surgery.

The shortage of general surgeons is at crisis dimensions, said George Sheldon, director of the American College of Surgery's Health Policy.

Without general surgeons as backup, family practitioners can't deliver babies, most internists won't do complicated procedures or emergency rooms can't take trauma cases, the report says.

In 1980, there were 945 newly trained general surgeons certified in the United States, the report said. In 2008, the number was essentially the same even though the population increased by 79 million.