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There's a shortage of pediatricians. A UT Arlington faculty member's helping to research why

Pediatrician,Providing,Healthcare,For,Her,Baby,Patient,In,The,Office
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A state health department report says 32% of North Texas kids aren't having their health care needs met. The number's expected to reach 38% over the next ten years.

The number of medical students pursuing a career in pediatrics has declined over the past five years as the number of pediatric positions available has increased. Kristin Gigli, Ph.D., an acute care pediatric nurse practitioner and an assistant professor at UT Arlington, is part of a national committee examining the shortage. She talked with KERA’s Sam Baker.

About the pediatrician shortage in Texas

A report in 2020 from the Texas Health and Human Services Administration identified North Texas as one of the areas of Texas with the greatest shortage of pediatricians. Not only is the problem bad now, but it will worsen by 2032.

Is the same true for pediatric specialties like pulmonology or maybe child care abuse aftercare?

We are coming out of a pandemic, and pediatric infectious disease is another area where we are dealing with significant shortages. And we also hear a lot about the mental health crisis of kids. And there are too few pediatricians who go into psychiatric and behavioral health for kids. Key areas to promoting a healthy child and helping kids grow to be productive adults.

Would a parent seeking a pediatrician for their child notice the shortage at this point?

A report from Texas Health and Human Services estimates about a third of the demand for pediatric care will go unmet because there aren’t enough pediatricians. So, there are likely types of care in areas where parents will notice a shortage of providers.

The research is ongoing, but what do you know now about the reasons for the shortage? 

It really is a complex, multidimensional system problem, but pay, for example, is potentially one of the factors.

The pay isn’t very good?

The pay is different. Pediatrics tends to be a lot of preventative care and keeping kids healthy. Whereas adult care is managing diseases and treating problems that already exist. The way that we incentivize and reward with financial incentives, that difference makes pediatrics less financially beneficial.

Also, faculty giving students, even starting in high school, the opportunity to have exposure to pediatrics and pediatricians, is really influential in how they think about what they want to do when they grow up.

It's something they're not getting now?

Yeah, mentorship happens, but maybe not at the right time. Maybe it's coming too late in their education. Maybe their exposure to pediatrics, when they're doing medical school training, is too late. And they've already decided on a specialty and have pursued a career path that isn’t pediatrics because they didn't have early exposure to it.

So, what will the committee do to rectify this with the research that you accumulate?

We’re coming up with strategies and activities we can recommend to policymakers in the government, state organizations, and to education systems to try and improve the resources and infrastructure to grow that pediatric workforce.

What's at stake?

The ability to take care of kids and make sure that they can grow into healthy adults. Delayed care means delayed treatments, missed screenings, and missed preventative care. And we can't make up for that.

If we miss those opportunities in childhood, we can anticipate kids will grow into adults who have more chronic health problems and need more health care. Taking advantage of their healthy childhood years to provide needed care is really important.

RESOURCES:

Nurse practitioner to examine national shortage of pediatricians

National Academy of Medicine’s Committee on the Pediatric Subspecialty Workforce and Its Impact on Child Health and Well-Being

Pediatric Workforce Shortages Persist

Growth and changes in the pediatric medical subspecialty workforce pipeline

Pediatric Care Struggles of US Trained International Medical Graduate Pediatricians in COVID-19 Pandemic

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.