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AMA Marks National Doctors' Day with an Eye to the Future

March 30th day to honor physicians, highlight need to shore up physician workforce

For immediate release:
March 30, 2009

CHICAGO – The American Medical Association (AMA) honors the more than 900,000 U.S. physicians who dedicate their professional lives to the art and science of medicine to benefit patients on National Doctors’ Day – Monday, March 30. On this day of tribute, the AMA is calling attention to the growing problem of physician shortages and its impact on patient care. Recently, the AMA shared with the U.S. Congress its strategy (PDF) to alleviate physician shortages in the coming years.

“National Doctors’ Day is an opportunity to recognize the dedication of physicians who care for America’s patients,” said AMA Board Member Cecil B. Wilson, M.D. “To help honor and bolster physicians the AMA is calling for health care reform that will increase the ranks of physicians to meet the nation’s future health care needs. Reports of physician shortages have already surfaced in about half the states, and if this trend is not reversed patients may not be able to see a doctor when they need one.”

A shortage of 85,000 physicians in specialties as varied as primary care, cardiology, oncology and general surgery is predicted to hit America in just 11 years. This is particularly problematic as the aging baby boomer population will soon need more care to stay active and healthy into their golden years.

“Demand for physician services is likely to grow as the baby boomers age, and as we work to achieve our goal of providing all Americans with health care coverage,” said Dr. Wilson. “The problem is that physician supply is not keeping up with the demand for health care.”

The AMA is working for health care reform that will help practicing physicians continue to provide high quality patient care and attract the best and brightest to careers in medicine. The government recently provided funds to train new primary health care professionals and encourage them to practice in underserved communities. This is an important step in the right direction to address workforce issues, and it must be built upon.

As part of its workforce strategy, the AMA is calling on Congress to address the medical student debt burden and permanent Medicare physician payment reform. In addition, although the number of students in medical school has increased, unless the government lifts its cap on residency training slots these students will not be able to finish their training and become the next generation of physicians.

“Supervised by experienced practicing physicians, medical residents participate in surgical procedures, routine patient visits, diagnosing medical conditions and making treatment recommendations,” said Dr. Wilson. “Lifting the government-cap on residency positions will eliminate the looming bottleneck of students waiting to begin their hands-on training to become physicians.”

President George H.W. Bush signed a resolution in 1990 designating March 30 as National Doctors’ Day. It was first observed in 1933 as a local celebration in Barrow County, Georgia to commemorate the date that Crawford W. Long, M.D., administered the first ether anesthetic for surgery (March 30, 1842). The red carnation is the symbol of Doctors’ Day because it denotes the qualities of love, charity, sacrifice, bravery and courage.

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For more information, contact:

Kate Cox
AMA Media Relations
312-464-4443