In recent years, America has seen numerous examples of the significance of infectious disease experts. Despite this, the Infectious Diseases Society of America reports that there is a deficit of infectious disease specialists in the United States (IDSA).
According to the association, the recent national recruitment campaign that matches medical residents with specialist training programs was somewhat unsuccessful in attracting more doctors to infectious disease medicine.
As per US News, the society reported that just 56% of adult infectious disease training programs and 49% of pediatric infectious disease training programs were filled, although most other specialties filled all or almost all of their programs.
Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, stated, “We have a considerable number of extremely great programs that did not fill, and this has caused the infectious disease community some anxiety.” It’s the most recent piece of terrible news in a disturbing pattern.
According to forecasts by the government Health Resources and Services Administration, the United States will face a serious shortage of infectious disease specialists within the next decade. HRSA estimates that by 2035, there will be a demand for 15,130 infectious disease specialists across the country, leaving 14,010 infectious disease physicians scrambling.
Dr. Carlos del Rio, president of the IDSA, remarked, “This is rather alarming for many of us since it suggests that we will lack the essential number of personnel to treat infectious diseases for many years.” Currently, four out of five U.S. counties lack a single infectious disease specialist, according to del Rio. Schaffner stated that this is occurring despite the fact that the COVID pandemic led to an increase in the number of people enrolling in medical school.
The public is also aware of the need for infectious disease specialists. About 91% of respondents to a poll conducted by the IDSA agreed that infectious disease specialists are necessary in hospitals to safeguard patients from infection when undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy and hip replacement surgery.
A further 65% of respondents agreed that expanding the number of people who focus on infectious disease management will better prepare the United States for the next pandemic.
So why aren’t individuals enrolling in this specialty? Pay is a major role, according to del Rio and Schaffner. “When you have huge college and medical school debt, and when you graduate with a large debt, you won’t choose a low-paying speciality,” said del Rio.
Dr. Boghuma Titanji, an infectious disease expert at Emory University, told NPR that the average pay for an infectious disease specialist is approximately $260,000, which is more than most working stiffs but significantly less than doctors in other specialities.
Schaffner stated that infectious disease physicians might be asked to perform additional particular tasks that can earn them a few extra dollars, such as monitoring infection control or antibiotic stewardship programs in hospitals.
He stated that these jobs are payed less than those performed under other specialties. In addition, the programs are frequently underfunded because, unlike services like surgery, they do not generate a profit.
“Therefore, you do not receive all of the resources necessary to do the task, and the compensation is still inadequate,” Schaffner explained. The work-life balance significantly diminishes the appeal of the infectious disease specialty to potential recruits. Even though they are not compensated as well as other hospital specialties, infectious disease physicians tend to work long hours, Schaffner noted.
“Medical residents frequently observe that infectious disease physicians are among the last to leave the hospital late at night due to the high demand for their consultation and the lack of infectious disease physicians,” Schaffner added.
Compare this to the position of hospitalist. Hospitalists are compensated far more than infectious disease specialists, according to Schaffner. “And when active, they work extremely hard. But when they are off, they are completely off.
Nobody calls them when they are following up with a patient or doing something similar. Therefore, infectious disease physicians work more hours than physicians in other specialities.” The politics of the COVID pandemic could also be a factor.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been singled out as the most prominent of the infectious disease experts and public health authorities who have come under attack, according to del Rio.
“People see the polarization of infectious disease and the attacks, and I believe that makes them wonder, ‘Why would I want to do this?'” said del Rio. Schaffner concurred, stressing that the strikes had also affected those already on the battlefield.
A colleague of his who works on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice — which helps the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention establish vaccine policy in the United States — is reconsidering their involvement in light of the vicious e-mails they have received.
“They may have the opportunity to continue serving on that committee, but they’re hesitant because they fear for the safety of their family,” Schaffner said. To attract more individuals into infectious disease practice, the United States must “raise the value of ID,” according to del Rio. “Infectious disease reimbursement needs to be improved. We must increase students’ exposure to the field of infectious disease.”
The IDSA survey revealed that there is some public support for increased compensation for infectious disease physicians. Two-thirds of respondents (65%) agreed that the federal government should help pay the student loans of infectious disease specialists who agree to work in underserved regions of the country.
ISDA urges Congress to enact the PREVENT Pandemics Act, which contains a pilot program that will provide health care providers with incentives to focus on infectious disease.
Schaffner remarked, “The discipline is rather alluring.” “Numerous individuals would be drawn to it. We must offer the administrative and financial foundation for the discipline to develop in the same manner as other disciplines, such as cardiology.”