Physician Shortage and Mental Health Crisis in the U.S.

It’s a slippery slope.

The United States is undergoing a mental health crisis that is dramatically impacting minorities and being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, physician shortages across nearly every practice mean that there are not enough mental health professionals to carry the load. This has left about 45% of the population struggling to access needed care, according to JAMA.

Where are these patients going for help? Many are turning to primary care physicians. More than 70% of primary care physicians report providing increased mental health support to patients, JAMA says. 

This, in turn, means that primary care physicians, already in short supply, are feeling overwhelmed and burned out, fueling increased resignations.

The slope toward health care crisis in the U.S. just gets more slippery.

As Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in introducing his Advisory Addressing Health Worker Burnout: “The nation’s health depends on the well-being of our health workforce. Confronting the long-standing drivers of burnout among our health workers must be a top national priority…. COVID-19 has been a uniquely traumatic experience for the health workforce and for their families, pushing them past their breaking point. Now, we owe them a debt of gratitude and action. And if we fail to act, we will place our nation’s health at risk.”

Murthy’s recommendations include:

  • Transforming workplaces so that health workers’ voices are heard, and they are empowered in helping to improve processes, workflows and organizational culture.
  • Eliminate punitive policies for health care workers seeking mental health or substance use care.
  • Protect health workers’ health, safety and well being by, among other things, providing living wages, paid sick and family leave and ensuring adequate staffing.

Clinics, hospitals and private practices are all struggling to meet patient demand during the physician shortage. Physicians Retraining & Reentry helps health care providers support physicians and staff by building a stronger workforce with experienced physicians pivoting their careers to primary care.

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