El Paso ranks high on a lot of lists with major cities these days for its low violent crime rates, happy workers, low cost of living and for being a great place to rent a house or apartment, to name a few.
A study released last month puts El Paso atop another one – the demand for doctors, ahead of Miami, Cleveland, Phoenix and Denver, according to Doximity, an online networking service for medical professionals.
In the same vein, a Kaiser Family Foundation study late last year put the state of Texas in the No. 2 spot behind California when comes to areas facing shortages of primary care doctors.
In Texas’ case, Kaiser determined that El Paso and 431 other areas of the state are seriously short of family physicians.
While the assertion that El Paso is in dire need of more doctors is no secret and hasn’t been for decades, the possibility that El Paso’s shortage is the worst in the United States has put a spotlight on the issue.
Consequences start with long wait times for sick children and include adults with medical problems, known or unknown, who don’t make or keep doctor appointments and the consequences of that down the road.
The researchers who conducted the Doximity-sponsored U.S. Physician Employment Report 2019 based their conclusions not on medical findings but on 27,000 job posts for doctors placed with Doximity.
The researchers were Christopher Whaley, Ph.D., an assistant adjunct professor and researcher at the RAND Corporation, and Dr. Amit Phull, Doximity’s vice president of strategy and insights.
Whaley and Phull also ranked communities that pay their physicians the most and the least, and their results track the findings of a Kaiser study showing states and communities that pay physicians the most have fewer doctor shortages.
Nico Tejeda, chief executive of The Hospitals of Providence in El Paso, said he hadn’t assessed the advertising data the researchers used but agreed with their conclusions.
“I can never vouch for any website or their methodology, but what they were indicating, I think, is true,” Tejeda said. “That is, the demand for physicians in El Paso has to be amongst the leaders of any metropolitan area in the country.
“I can’t say that statistically it’s No. 1, but I know if I look at statistics, on average in the United States, there are 26 positions for every 10,000 residents – on average. In El Paso County, it’s half of that. We have 13 physicians for every 10,000 residents.”
The bottom line, he said, is this: “We’ve had the need for doctors for a very long time, but not so much money to hire them.”
So what’s new?
“We’ve also had half as many restaurants as we should, half as many entertainment venues and half as many hotels,” Tejeda said. “But we’re finally catching up, and as quality of life improves, we’re having more traction in recruiting these physicians to El Paso.”
And that’s important, he said, because medical doctors do much more than just heal the sick.
“They’re also the foundation of our economy,” he said.
An American Medical Association study from two years ago found that every physician in a community contributes to the creation of 17 jobs nationally.
“They narrowed it down to the state of Texas, and it’s 13 jobs for every physician that comes into a community,” Tejeda said. “That’s roughly $1 million in wages for every physician and $120,000 or so in taxes.
“They’re an economic engine. But the piece that I think really makes them important is they are leaders in our churches and our civic leadership. They’re on our boards. They participate in politics, and they get elected.”
Most of the discussion of doctor shortages in El Paso has focused on the need for specialists and subspecialists, especially for children.
But Doximity’s report found that the greatest shortages are in the basics, starting with family medicine and followed by internal medicine, emergency medicine and psychiatry, as well as obstetrics, radiology and pediatrics.
“Those are the specialties in almost every community that are the most in deficit because they are the specialties that pay the least, and therefore, you don’t have physicians who aspire for them.
“That far and away is the biggest deficit.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.