Thoracic surgeon shortage in Australia

When you need surgery, How long will you wait? (and will there be anyone to perform the operation?) The on-going surgeon shortage now affecting South Australia.

There is more evidence of the changing demographics of healthcare and an aging population and its effects world-wide on cardiothoracic surgery as the Australian newspaper, Herald Sun published reports of lengthy patient waiting lists for surgical procedures including procedures categorized as “urgent.”

waiting list

Long lines and waiting lists

More concerning, is the report of the number of patients who have died waiting for surgery*.

The report, which focuses on the Southern region of Australia highlights the shortage of specialty surgeons and the growing numbers of patients affected by these shortages.

Critics of the Australian government have also voiced concerns over the Surgeon Workforce project which aims to partially alleviate these shortages by using foreign-trained surgeons and imported labor.  This comes at a time when Australia actually has an oversupply of general practice or internal medicine physicians.

The shortage of well-trained surgeons is affecting all surgical specialties but the cardiac and thoracic surgery specialties are particularly hard hit due to the lengthy, rigorous (and often costly) training regimen  in many countries.

In the United States, this process is also exacerbated by an antiquated, sometimes arbitrary or impractical practice for residency placement that discourages international medical students.  This, along with other concerns (legitimate as well as political) that govern the regulations that permit overseas graduates to practice in the United States restricts the possibility of reducing the growing shortage in a similar manner.

The lengthy educational process is not the only factor.  Many medical students cite the strenuous work schedules, diminished job satisfaction and physically challenging surgical lifestyles as reasons medical students are choosing other specialties which are seen as being equally or more lucrative but allowing more work-life balance.

Similar shortages have been reported in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

* Many international readers have asked if this is what is affecting the Americans Veteran’s Administration hospital system.  Not really, (or if so, only partially).  Th VA Scandal is a tragic example of the bureaucratic red tape that is becoming far too frequent for Americans seeking medical services.