By Dr. Anthony Policastro

The United States birth rate has been steadily decreasing since it peaked at 4,320,000 in 2007. In 2021 that number had dropped to 3,660,000. That is more than a 15 percent drop. The big boost in births expected after the COVID lockdown never materialized in 2021.

People may say: “What difference does that make to me and my health care?” The answer is simple. It makes a lot of difference.

In 2013, it became obvious that there was going to be a doctor shortage in 2025. That was driven by multiple factors. When I completed my internship, I worked the nursery, the inpatient service, the emergency room and the office. 

Then specialists in emergency medicine came along, they were full time. However, before that they were doctors in private practice. So there were less doctors in practice because of that.

Then inpatient care was taken over by hospitalists. They too left practice to be full time in the hospital. 

In the past doctors didn’t retire until they were physically able. Now the retirement age is younger. It more approximates when they are financially able.

On the patient side the aging baby boomers put increased numbers of patients with multiple medical issues into the population.

The solution was for the federal government to increase funding for residencies. It takes about 8 years to train a physician counting medical school plus residency. Thus if funding was increased in 2013, one eighth of the new doctors would be available in 2021 with 50 percent of them available by 2025.

However, the funding did not begin until 2021. That means that the first eighth will be done in 2029 and the final group will graduate in 2037. That means between 2025 and 2037 there will be a shortage of physicians.

A similar issue can be found in terms of not enough caregivers. As people age, they need more care. The younger college graduates often go into those fields. The problem is that there will be less college graduates because the ones born at the peak in 2007 will graduate high school in 2025. The numbers go down after that.

Of course the colleges are going to find that there will be less students. Those that continue to grow are in for a rude awakening. Between 1975 and 2018 the number of college students grew by 78 percent. The number of faculty members grew by 92 percent. This was expected. 

However, over that same period the number of college administrators has grown by 164 percent. In addition, over that same period administrative support staff has grown by 452 percent. Someone is going to have to pay for all that.

Fertility clinics will thrive as there is an underlying societal drive to keep up the birth rate even if it is done artificially.

All of this does not even include the fewer number of young workers contributing to the Social Security Trust fund. That is only indirectly medical.

For anyone who is of the opinion that the lower birth rate does not affect them at all from a medical standpoint, they are likely to be in for a rude awakening.